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Dmitrij”, Dvořák’s Grand Opera at Bard’s Fisher Center

by Florindo Troncelliti

Dimitrij runs for five performances between July 28 and August 6, with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinée on July 30.

Once again, Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra present an obscure operatic masterpiece as the featured component of the Chopin-​​centered 2017 Bard Summerscape Music Festival, Chopin and His World.

Dmitrij, Antonin Dvořák’s masterpiece about patriotic fervor, love, betrayal and murder is a long-​​neglected major work and his only, so-​​called “grand opera.” Dimitrij, which features magnificent choruses and lavish settings encased in a sweeping and momentous historical plot, has never before been fully-​​staged in the United States.

Chopin, perhaps best known for the innovative style of his miraculous piano works, such as the mazurkas and impromptus, uses a short character piece with a general feeling of spontaneity. Overall, impromptus may be categorized into several different groups: some appear as part of a larger cycle, such as Dvořák’s G minor Impromptu from his Piano Pieces. But how does Dvořák’s grand opera with an American staging première echo the spirit of Chopin?

Dimitrij 2The great achievement of Dvořák, who began his career as a violist in an orchestra conducted by Smetana, was to join the warmth, gaiety and optimism of native Czech music to the great classical forms developed by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. This is what places the great Bohemian composer in the Romantic, nationalist tradition of Chopin.

After Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák was the second Czech composer to achieve worldwide recognition. Following Smetana’s nationalist example, he frequently employed aspects, specifically rhythms, of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák’s own style has been described as ‘the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them’.

In 1878, Dvořák’s international reputation was launched upon the favorable reviews of respected music critics of the day, for his works, known as Slavonic Dances, published by Simroc with the recommendation of Johannes Brahams. Brahms had been on the panel of judges that awarded Dvořák first place in 1874, 1876 and 1877 in the Austrian State Prize for Composition.

Dimitrij
(1882) is rarely staged outside the Czech Republic, and only received its U.S. concert première in 1984, more than a century after its composition. Yet the opera was a popular success at its Prague première and has long been recognized as an exemplar of Dvořák’s signature lyricism and masterfully stirring choral writing.

By contrast, another of the composer’s twelve operas, Dvořák’s fairytale, Rusalka, is still performed in the regular rotation of the major opera repertories.

Anne BogartMarking the long overdue first fully staged American production of Dvořák’s opera, Bard’s historic presentation also features Dimitrij’s rarely heard, full-​​length overture and original, brutal conclusion. Conceived expressly for SummerScape 2017, the opera’s new manifestation is produced by Anne Bogart, who co-​​founded the acclaimed SITI Company to redefine and revitalize contemporary American theater. A 1974 Bard alumna whose many honors include two “Best Director” Obies and the Jesse L. Rosenberger Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Creative & Performing Arts, it was Bogart who collaborated with Bill T. Jones on A Rite, the major new dance-​​theater piece Bard co-​​commissioned to commemorate SummerScape 2013’s centenary of The Rite of Spring.

Explaining her vision for the setting of the upcoming production, Bogart said:

For me it was important to set Dimitrij at a time analogous to the “Time of Troubles” in Russia, when the world order had altered and no one knew whether to support or resist the new hegemony. Of course I could have set our production in the present but instead I opted for the slight distancing of a time reminiscent of 1989 Berlin. Our Dimitrij takes place at the moment in history when Communism had collapsed but it was not yet clear what shape the future might take.”

To help realize Bogart’s vision, Bard’s production features sets by Tony and Obie Award-​​winner David Zinn; costumes by Tony nominee and Outer Critics Circle Award-​​winner Constance Hoffman; lighting by Henry Hewes Design Award-​​winner Brian H. Scott; movement direction by Barney O’Hanlon, whose three decades of Bogart collaborations include SummerScape 2013’s A Rite; and hair and makeup by Jared Janas and David Bova, whose work graced last year’s mainstage presentation of Iris.

DIMITRIJ_3Headlining Bard’s original production is tenor Clay Hilley, winner of the New York Wagner Society’s Robert Lauch Award. After his recent title role appearance in Idomeneo, Germany’s Main-​​Post marveled:

Hilley commands the stage with his physical presence. His powerful tenor combines force and clarity – nobody would ever call into question the leadership of this bear of a man.”

Soprano Melissa Citro makes her festival debut as Dimitrij’s Polish wife, Marina, having already demonstrated her abilities with Dvořák’s music in the title role of Rusalka, in which, as Opera News reports:

Citro gave unstintingly of a bright and beautiful voice, singing with the utmost security and power. Her portrayal of the unhappy heroine was fully nuanced, demonstrating a complete understanding of this complex character.”

Completing their fatal love triangle as Godunov’s daughter, Xenie, is Russian soprano Olga Tolkmit. A nominee for Russia’s Golden Mask Award, in her American debut as Elektra in SummerScape 2013’s Oresteia she impressed the Financial Times with her “resonant, bright-​​voiced soprano.” Nora Sourouzian – “a velvet-​​voiced mezzo-​​soprano from Canada with an arresting stage personality” (The Telegraph, UK) – returns to the festival as Marfa, widow of Ivan the Terrible. Like her, Levi Hernandez starred in Bard’s La Navarraise last season on a double-​​bill with Puccini’s Le Villi. Blessed with an “impressive knack for subtle text-​​painting within a pristinely negotiated coloratura line” (Opera News), he sings the role of Prince Shuisky, leader of the Godunov faction and eventual murderer of Dimitrij, while Joseph Barron lends his “rolling, imposing baritone” (Opera Today) to that of General Basmanov, who leads the doomed pretender’s supporters. Peixin Chen, bass, makes his SummerScape debut in the role of Jove, or the patriarch, having most recently performed in productions of Aida and Salome at the Metropolitan Opera. Rounding out Bard’s cast as Neborsky and Bucinsky respectively are bass-​​baritone Joseph Damon Chappel, a founding member of the Grammy-​​nominated Tiffany Consort, as seen in previous SummerScape productions of Die Liebe der Danae and Le roi malgré lui; and baritone Thomas McCargar, a member of the Grammy Award-​​winning Choir of Trinity Wall Street who has collaborated with artists ranging from contemporary composers Du Yun and Missy Mazzoli to Andrea Bocelli, Kanye West, and the Rolling Stones.

Dimitrij runs for five performances between July 28 and August 6, with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinée on July 30. Bard Music Festival 2017 also offers an all-​​too-​​rare opportunity to see Stanisław Moniuszko’s Halka, Poland’s first great opera, in a semi-​​staged performance at the Bard Music Festival (August 19).

For a selection of Videos relating to the opera click HERE

TON 1 imageStanisław Moniuszko’s Halka (1858), Bard Music Festival, Program 9

Although several of Chopin’s contemporaries explicitly expressed the hope that he would be the one to write Poland’s first great opera, that distinction fell instead to his compatriot Stanisław Moniuszko (1819 – 72). On August 19, Bard presents an all-​​too-​​rare semi-​​staged performance of Halka (1858), the four-​​act masterwork with which Moniuszko ensured his legacy as the father of Polish opera. Set to a politically charged libretto by Włodzimierz Wolski, a poet with radical social views, Halka is the story of the eponymous young peasant woman whose arrival disrupts an engagement party between wealthy landowners Janusz and Zofia. It soon transpires that Halka is not only in love with Janusz, but believes herself engaged to him, and is pregnant with his child. When she loses the baby and learns that Janusz intends to go ahead with the wedding, Halka is broken-​​hearted, and, after fantasizing about revenge, takes her own life instead. Regularly performed in Poland, Halka remains virtually unknown abroad, despite being “redolent with the melodic flavors of Polish folk music and balladry” (New York Times), and hailed as “melodious, affecting and appealing: … a rare treat” (Washington Post).

Bard’s semi-​​staged production stars Amanda Majeski in the title role. A Polish-​​American soprano whose honors include first prize at the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition, Majeski recently gave “a commanding performance” (Opera News) at Washington National Opera that proved “a great showcase for her rich, resonant soprano” (Financial Times). Singing opposite her as the faithless Janusz is Aubrey Allicock, who graced Bard’s “TurandotProject” last summer, and whose “bass-​​baritone has a distinctively glossy, warm color, with increasingly impressive freedom and fullness at the top of its range” (Opera News). Returning to the festival after her “consistently excellent” (New York Arts) appearances in previous seasons, mezzo-​​soprano Teresa Buchholz – winner of the female division at Carnegie Hall’s Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition – sings the role of Janusz’s kind-​​hearted young bride, Zofia. Liam Moran, a “sturdy bass who sings with affecting gravity” (New York Times), undertakes that of her father, Stolnik, and Miles Mykkanen, a 2016 Sullivan Foundation award recipient who impressed Opera News with his tenor’s “sheer vocal gold,” sings the part of Jontek, an old friend of Halka’s whose love for her remains unrequited.

Returning to helm Bard’s semi-​​staged production are director Mary Birnbaum, scenic designer Grace Laubacher, and lighting designer Anshuman Bhatia, the creative team behind last year’s double-​​bill of Le Villi and La Navarraise. “A director of real quality” (Houston Press), Birnbaum is an International Opera Awards finalist whose work has been variously described as “unsettlingly immediate” (New York Times) and “a dazzling display of inventiveness and … delight” (San Francisco Chronicle).

For a full schedule of SummerScape and Bard Music Festival events follow the links below.
Bard SummerScapefishercenter​.bard​.edu/​s​u​m​m​e​r​s​c​ape
Bard Music Festivalfishercenter​.bard​.edu/​bmf
Tickets and Subscriptionsfishercenter​.bard​.edu/​t​i​c​k​ets; or by phone at 845 – 758-​​​​7900. Tickets to all mainstage events start at $25.
Information on transportation options from Manhattan can be found herehttp://​fishercenter​.bard​.edu/​v​i​s​i​t​/​t​r​a​n​s​p​o​r​t​a​t​i​on/

 

 

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