SummerScape Returns to Bard

by Florindo Troncelliti

Summerscape 2016 arrives with a full spectrum of the performing arts. The highly anticipated and much beloved festival returns on July 1 to the verdant setting of the Bard College campus. SummerScape 2016 features seven weeks of opera, instrumental music, dance, film and cabaret.

The heart of SummerScape 2016 is the 27th annual Bard Music Festival, Puccini and His World.

Giacomo Puccini SM

Giacomo Puccini — Photo copywrite by Frank C. Bangs — Library of Congress

Puccini is widely regarded as the world’s most popular opera composers, primarily for La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, and Tosca. Yet, the very features of these operas that have done so much to ensure Puccini’s mass appeal, have also given rise to a criticism. His critics assert that his sensual lyricism, masterly orchestral colors and soaring climaxes signify a bourgeois sentimentality without the depth of Verdi or Wagner. Puccini is accused of being, in a word, “commercial.”

During the premiere of a 1991 revival of Puccini’s opera La Fanciulla del West, this writer overheard one standee in the Metropolitan Opera Family Circle standing room section whisper to another standee, “Puccini’s music sounds better than it is, and Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

The criticisms of commercialism spread alongside Puccini’s popularity after his death, leading conductor Vittorio Gui to remark, in exaggeration, that Puccini was the most beloved and the most despised of all composers.

Puccini’s great success was, by some, ascribed to declining standards of taste in the 20th century. Now, however, Bard SummerScape 2016 offers the world an opportunity for reexamination of the Puccini paradox during the Festival’s final two weekends. August 5 – 7 explores “Puccini and Italian Musical Culture.” Then, August 12 – 14 looks “ Beyond Verismo.”

Through the prism of Puccini’s life and career, the Bard Music Festival explores more than a century of Italian politics, arts, letters and music. Eleven concert programs over these two weekends are organized around such themes as the role of politics in Italian opera, attempts to synthesize Italian and German musical styles, Italy’s choral tradition, and the rise of Futurism, Modernism, and the avant-​​garde.

The Festival features a broad array of other Italian composers as well. Alfredo Catalini and Arrigo Boito are two of Puccini’s immediate predecessors; Amilcare Ponchielli as Puccini’s primary teacher; and among his rival opera composers, the Festival presents works by Ermanno Wolf-​​Ferrari, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, Pietro Mascagni and Ferruccio Busoni. Additionally, the Festival features many composers known for instrumental works. There are also works by Gian Carlo Menotti and Luciano Berio, influential 20th century composers whose works echo some of Puccini’s prominent musical ideas. Bard will revive Jules Massenet’s short two-​​act opera, “La Navarraise” and pair it with Puccini’s first opera, Le Villi (1884).

Before the Bard Music Festival in August, SummerScape 2016 opens on July 1 – 3 with three performances and the world premiere of John Heginbotham and Amy Trompetter’s “Fantasque.” “Fantasque” evolved from Ottornio Respighi’s La Boutique Fantastique, a ballet score adapted from a suite of Rossini’s piano works. Sergei Diaghiliev’s Ballets Rousses mounted the first production of the ballet in 1919.

Now Heginbotham and Trompetter are creating an entirely new work to Respighi and Rossini’s music. Giant puppets and human dancers join forces to create a fable of a battle between light and darkness, with a fantastical cast of characters featuring giant babies, blue angels, devils, rats and a restaurant where the customers are tuxedo-​​wearing fish.

July 7 – 17 at SummerScape brings to life nine performances of “Demolishing Everything With Amazing Speed,” a collection of four previously unpublished, untranslated and unperformed of Fortunato Depero’s futurist puppet plays. They are here gathered for a unified performance, produced by Dan Harlin, staged at the LUMA Theater.

In a ground-​​breaking discovery in 2015, Hudson Valley-​​based puppet artist Dan Hurlin unearthed four more of Depero’s puppet plays, written during WWI. Full of surreal imagery but empty of dialogue, the plays represent a marriage of playful whimsy with violence and menace. The nine performances in July will all be at the LUMA Theater, and are suitable for ages twelve and up.

From July 21-​​August 14, SummerScape launches into the medium of film in a series entitled, “Puccini and the Operatic Impulse in Cinema.”

Since the dawn of cinema at the end of the nineteenth century, Opera has been an enduring reference point for filmmakers.  This was, coincidentally, the time of Puccini’s artistic ascendancy.

Through Senso (1954), Rocco and His Brothers (1960), and The Leopard (1963), SummerScape will focus special attention on the cinematic legacy of Luchino Visconti, who was also a noted director of Italian opera.  In his career as an opera director Visconti collaborated with such greats as Maria Callas and Leonard Bernstein.

The other film offerings in the series span an exciting range of times and talents with The Toll of the Sea (1922), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), A Room With A View (1988), The Age of Innocence (1993), The Last Emperor (1987), and The Immigrant (2013).  The Immigrant stars Metropolitan Opera star tenor, Joseph Calleia in the role of Enrico Caruso.

The “operatic impulse” comes to full fruition at this year’s SummerScape with Iris (1898), Pietro Mascagni’s late opera.  Iris is rarely staged, unlike his perennially popular, Cavalleria Rusticana. Bard SummerScape is offering five performances of the bewitchingly lovely, opera, with its “dreamlike score,” (the Independent, UK)  from July 22 – 31.

Iris SM

Talise Trevigne as Isis– Photo by Todd Norwood

Iris is a product of the japonisme movement sweeping Europe before the turn of the 19th century.  Like Madama Butterfly, Iris depicts a tragedy of innocence betrayed in late 19ty century Japan.  Iris is a young girl, tricked into leaving her blind father for a brothel in Tokyo. She commits suicide after her father discovers and then denounces her.

The cast is headlined by Grammy-​​nominated Talise Trevigne, recently acclaimed for her portrayal of Butterfly at North Carolina Opera. Bass-​​baritone Douglas Williams, and Austrian-​​Australian tenor Gerard Schneider.

James Darrah SM

James Darrah — Photo by Simon Kessler

Director James Darrah heads up this production — conceived expressly for SummerScape 2016.  He’s a staunch advocate of multidisciplinary collaboration, and Iris features costumes by his longtime professional partner Peabody Southwell, as well as evocative projections by Adam Larsen, lighting by Neil Peter Jampolis, and set designs from Emily MacDonald and Cameron Jaye Moc. Leon Botstein leads the American Symphony Orchestra for the five performance run of Iris, between July 22 and 31.  There will be an Opera Talk with Maestro Botstein, free and open to the public, before the July 24th matinee.

Finally, the SummerScape 2016 Festival is rounded out with the Spiegeltent, back for an eleventh magnificent summer.  Back by popular demand for a third season, Tony Award-​​nominee Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, “the greatest cabaret artist of this generation” (New Yorker), returns to resume duties as host, emcee, and guest curator.  Friday and Saturday evenings feature world-​​class performers, musicians and DJs. Thursdays bring a lineup of one-​​of-​​a-​​kind jazz concerts presented in collaboration with Catskill jazz Factory.

The Bard SummerScape Spiegeltent is a handmade pavilion from Belgium, decorated with mirrors and stained glass, evoking a bygone era of glamour and richesse.  The mirrored tent provides a sumptuous and magical environment to enjoy cutting-​​edge cabaret and world-​​class musical performances — almost all of which have sold out in recent years — capped by dining and late-​​night dancing throughout the festival.  Dining is inspired by seasonal Hudson Valley ingredients and served at lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays, and suppertime on Thursdays through Saturday, with a full bar offering to complement the menu.  As Edinburgh Fringe magazine suggests, “Enter the Spiegeltent — the tent of dreams— and you will never be the same again.”

For a full schedule and much more on the Spiegeltent click HERE.

For tickets, directions and further information:
Call the Fisher Center box office at 845 – 758-​​7900
Or visit the website HERE.

Featured Image:
The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts

Photo by Peter Aaron ’68/​Esto


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