Bard Music Festival

Bard Summerscape, Bard College, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts

The Bard Music Festival at 25: Franz Schubert and his World

A Schubertiade at Josef von Spaun's, by Moritz von Schwind, ca. 1870. Oil on canvas.

My leading thought goes against much of what the Bard Music Festival and my own values, for that matter, stand for. And just read Keith Francis’ provocative series, The Great Composers?, the latest installment of which has just been published. I’ve missed only one Bard Festival since 2006, and I’ve heard great music by Elgar, Prokofiev, and Sibelius. And, well, Saint-Saëns was too gifted to be great, and that really didn’t interest him in any case. Of the composers included in the festival, only Wagner and Stravinsky turn up on common lists of the greatest—not that those stupid lists do anything but harm. Still, during the two weekends devoted to Franz Schubert I felt I was living with the gods, and the lingering impression of those weekends swelled accordingly.

John Banville’s Love in the Wars after Kleist’s Penthesilea at Bard Summerscape

Chris Stack (Achilles) and Birgit Huppuch (Penthesilea) in Love in the Wars. Photo Cory Weaver.

If one has read one’s Classics, or has acquired a passion for ancient literature later in life and has read, say, Homer and the tragic poets with some attention, or, perhaps I should say, is older than fifty, one, in some human situation, whether intimate, passionate, urgent, or trivial, will occasionally get an uncanny feeling that one is living out Greek myth—that under one’s skin Achilles, Hermes, or Thetis are making us act and speak from within, as if we twenty-first century humans were nothing more than costumes for some drama of great antiquity that plays itself out continuously over millennia in strands intertwined with other narratives. Is this fate, or archetype, or merely common or garden human nature, observed as keenly by Homer, Pindar, and Euripides as by Dickens, Nietzsche, or Proust?

Kevin Newbury talks to Michael Miller about his production of Weber’s Euryanthe at Bard Summerscape

Ellie Dehn as Euryanthe

For its annual opera, Bard Summerscape has chosen Carl Maria von Weber’s seldom performed masterpiece, Euryanthe. Der Freischütz had been a great success at the Kärtnerthortheater in Vienna at its premiere in 1821, and the impresario Domenico Barbala lost no time in asking Weber for another opera of the sort. Weber, however, wanted to compose something different. He wanted to grow beyond the popular Singspiel alternation of spoke dialogue and sung numbers in favor of a freer flow of recitative, sung dialogue, and arias. Weber had considerable difficulty in deciding on a libretto, and he eventually persuaded Helmine von Chezy to take on the job—against her protests. She wrote the libretto for Schubert’s even more unsuccessful Rosamunde at the same time. Both premiered in 1823.) Euryanthe‘s failure in spite of Weber’s splendid music is generally blamed on the poor quality of Chezy’s verse and the involved, hard-to-follow plotline. Over the years, Euryanthe receives only occasional performances, but it has also aquired a passionate cult following, mainly on the basis of the excellent 1975 recording with the Dresdner Staatskapelle playing under Marek Janowski, and Jessye Norman and Nicolai Gedda, among the cast. Director Kevin Newbury and his team have worked hard to overcome Euryanthe‘s challenges, as Mr. Newbury likes to call them, and his discussion of them in this interview gives us every reason to be optimistic.

John Banville talks to Michael Miller about Love in the Wars, his English adaptation of Kleist’s Penthesilea

Heinrich von Kleist and John Banville

John Banville and Michael Miller discuss Love in the Wars, his free English adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist’s play, Penthesilea, with a digression about the rest of Mr. Banville’s work, before returning to the play, which will receive its world premiere at Bard College Summerscape. Kleist’s theatrical ambition was to fuse Greek tragedy with Shakespearean “burlesque.” The work shows his pessimistic world view spiced with black Prussian humor.

Bard Music Festival, 2013: Igor Stravinsky and his World, Part I

Albert Gleizes (1881–1953), Portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1914). Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Every year, the Bard Summer Music Festival enjoys excellent attendance, including some, like Saint-Saëns, in 2012, that even surprised the organizers. I think it also came a something of a surprise that this year’s Stravinsky Festival was a sell-out for most events, to the point that the lobby of Olin Hall was filled with long lines of nervous visitors, hoping to get their hands on a return. Why did Stravinsky, the forbidding dandy, who had no interest whatsoever in providing comfort for his audiences, turn out to be such a draw? Was it the popular film about his love life? Robert Craft’s recent, highly dubious “outing” of him, which created a flurry in the newspapers? The hit play, Nikolai and the Others, at Lincoln Center? Or is it simply hip to like Stravinsky these days?

Sergey Taneyev’s Oresteia at Bard — a Review

Clytemnestra (Liuba Sokolova) sacrifices a ram in Taneyev's Oresteia at Bard. Photo Cory Weaver.

In his introductory lectures, Leon Botstein is almost always engaging and enthusiastic, except when, to make an instructive point, he discusses music he knows to be inferior , and then he is at least amusing. However, before the Sunday matinee of Taneyev’s Oresteia, he conveyed a certain Cheshire Cat-like excitement, as if he had something really exceptional in store for us. The air in and around the Fisher Center was charged, and one could feel it. We were not disappointed.

Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev’s Oresteia comes to Bard…then on to the Mariinsky!

Director Thaddeus Strassberger in rehearsal with Maria Litke as Pallas Athena and chorus on the stage of the Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Performing Arts Center, Bard College, July 17, 2013. Photo Eleanor Davis.

Every summer, in the course of Bard College’s Summerscape, the expansive net of entertainment, education, and enlightenment Leon Botstein and his cohorts cast about the Bard Music Festival, we get an opportunity to enjoy a rare opera, which has either fallen out of, or never entered, the basic repertory of the art form—an opera you will never see at the Met. In many cases the reasons these works disappeared is either straightforward or practical: tastes change, or the management of mainstream opera houses ceased to find it workable to engage a cast of six or eight lead singers when the most popular operas required only two. In other cases the reasons are mysterious, complex, or otherwise fascinating.

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