Even if the performances of the Barnard Columbia Ancient Drama Group were half as good as they are, we'd have to be grateful to them for even attempting to perfom ancient theater in the original language as something more than an academic exercise. For quite a few years now, the Matthew Alan Kramer Fund has enabled Barnard and Columbia students to offer these productions with some resources for costumes, sets, etc., but the essential ingredient in their success (Tthey usually sell out) is the passionate dedication and hard work of all involved—above all the student actors, who often rise to a level far beyond what we normally expect from even the most serious efforts of colleges and universities. Beyond youthful energy and enthusiasm, an impressive concentration of solid Greek, close, intelligent study of Euripides and his text, and, above all, theatrical talent brought this rarely performed—rarely even read—masterpiece to life.
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.
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.