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*+-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?
*+-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.
*+-This year Bard Summerscape’s annual opera and operetta are fused into one in Emmanuel Chabrier’s Le roi malgré lui, a true opéra comique, written for the homonymous theater in Paris. In this genre, with which Leon Botstein indulged New York audiences with Bizet’s Djamileh this past spring, the effervescent humor we associate with operetta meets the more careful writing and construction of opera. As delightful as Djamileh was—and it did offer something more substantial than the Strausses, Offenbach, and Gilbert and Sullivan—Le roi malgré lui is in a different league. Chabrier painstakingly worked over a worse than mediocre play of the 1830’s, transforming it into a psychologically convincing and witty libretto and setting it to original, even daring music, such as only he could write, to create a sophisticated, forward-looking operatic work. As I go through what has been written about the opera and its composer, everyone who knows it exudes a warm affection and intellectual respect for both.
*+-In my preview of this opera, I maintained that Die Liebe der Danae (more properly, Danaë, emphasizing the “ahh-aay” of the last two vowels), is a rarely performed treasure from the last years of Richard Strauss. Based on Maestro Botstein’s wonderful recording a decade ago, I wondered whether an actual stage production could do justice to the music. Joseph Gregor’s libretto seemed wayward to me, so that seemed the biggest obstacle for a felicitous live production. In fact, this new production at Bard’s Summerscape, directed by Kevin Newbury, lived up to, and exceeded all my expectations. Musically, it turns out as one of Strauss’s most attractive works; and the libretto, while quirky and vapid at times, inspired a humorous, imaginative and completely enchanting production.
*+-Die Liebe der Danaë Libretto by Joseph Gregor Based on a scenario by Hugo von Hofmannsthal Music by Richard Strauss First N.Y. Fully Staged production July 29 – August 7, 2011 The Richard B. Fisher Center f or the Performing Arts at Bard College The American Symphony Orchestra Leon Botstein, Conductor It’s a bit of […]
*+-[UPDATE: read our review of the festival here.] Bard SummerScape 2011 Explores the Life and Times of Jean Sibelius with a Seven-Week Arts Festival in New York’s Hudson Valley, July 7 – August 21, 2011 Includes 22nd Bard Music Festival, “Sibelius and His World” and New York’s First Staged Production […]
*+-The summer festivals have been proceeding creditably, but now the Important Events are beginning to turn up, mostly in New York State, it seems—not that a cycle of Beethoven violin sonatas by Christian Tetzlaff isn’t important! First came the Oresteia at Bard, then Rossini’s rarely performed Semiramide, and now, once again at Bard, Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. Probably the most popular opera of all during the nineteenth century (It exceeded 1,000 performances at the Paris Opera), it fell rapidly from favor with, it seems, the First World War.
*+-If I was at all distracted during the three intensely focussed performances at Bard’s Fisher Center, it was to pinch myself to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming. Gregory Thompson’s production of Aeschylus’ Oresteia seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience—a satisfactory production of ancient Greek drama in English. In fact it was more than satisfactory—far ahead of anything else I have seen. In fact if I have to qualify my estimate of its success in any way, it is for purely technical reasons: Mr. Thompson concentrated on the surviving element of of Aeschylus’ work, the text, and ignored dance and music almost entirely. On the other hand he was perfectly right in deciding on this solution. Whatever dance and music one might bring in would be either an insufficiently documented reconstruction or a modern recreation in a modern idiom, and Aeschylus’ verse is sufficiently rich and complex to make it advisable to concentrate on that alone. Every actor delivered Ted Hughes’ lucid, noble, and colorful English with supreme clarity and ease, so that the audience could make close contact with the meaning and beauty of the language, as well as the elegance and expression of the actors’ delivery. The power of this brilliant production lay in its honesty and directness.