27th Bard Music Festival 'Puccini and His World' to Open This Friday
The 27th annual Bard Music Festival - an exploration of "Puccini and His World" - opens this Friday, August 5 with Weekend One: Puccini and Italian Musical Culture.
The first of the weekend's five themed concerts, Program 1: "Opera, Politics, and the Italian," examines the ways Italians perceived their newly unified homeland in the comparatively peaceful half-century between the Risorgimento and the First World War, through operatic and other excerpts by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) and his contemporaries. The New York Times has praised Bard's "track record of presenting fine young performers and some good veterans," and the opening event's outstanding line-up comprises soprano Melody Moore, tenor Russell Thomas, and bass-baritone Paul Whelan; the Bard Festival Chorale with choral director James Bagwell; and The Orchestra Now - Bard's unique graduate training orchestra, now in its inaugural season - under the leadership of music director and festival co-artistic director Leon Botstein. A distinguished scholar recognized as "one of the most remarkable figures in the worlds of arts and culture" (THIRTEEN/WNET), the conductor also provides an illuminating commentary on the performance.
Botstein explains: "This year's Bard Music Festival is different from previous music festivals on several accounts. First, we are focusing on a composer from Italy. We've never really had an Italian composer. And that's odd, when you think that Italy, in the European arena, rivals Germany as the leading source of musical culture. ... Every town in Italy had an opera house. ... It was the meeting ground not only of the elite, but of a rising middle class and even the working class."
Botstein discusses Puccini and music in Italy.
One of the most successful opera composers in history, Puccini created three of the most iconic and enduringly popular operas of all time - La bohème, Madama Butterfly, andTosca - as well as Manon Lescaut, La fanciulla del West, and Turandot, all of which remain staples of the repertory. Yet the very features of his composition that have done most to ensure this mass appeal have also been the source of controversy. As Botstein notes:
"Puccini's incredible success, internationally, was a tribute to his skill and his genius, but also it made him the subject of enormous controversy in Italy. He was attacked by Italian nationalists as being an internationalist. ... So we look at the controversies that have surrounded Puccini as we look at his work and that of his contemporaries."
Drawing on recent scholarship, the Bard Music Festival's signature thematic programming, multidisciplinary approach, and emphasis on context and reception history provide the perfect platform for a reexamination of this Puccini paradox. All of Weekend One's programs are augmented with pre-concert talks or commentaries by eminent experts, including Scholars-in-Residence Emanuele Senici and Arman Schwartz, editors of the forthcoming 2016 volume, Giacomo Puccini and His World. Schwartz comments:
"Although the transition from Verdi to Puccini is often depicted as a gracious and inevitable 'passing of the baton,' Italian music was in fact in crisis throughout the later 19th century. Composers and critics fought over Verdi's legacy and struggled to assimilate foreign trends and influences. Week One of the Bard Music Festival, 'Puccini and Italian Musical Culture,' aims to restore this sense of confusion and excitement. Focusing on rarely performed and long-forgotten works by Puccini and his contemporaries, the festival addresses themes including the invention of Italian symphonic music, the crisis of the operatic aria, and debates over Wagnerism and Germanic musical culture. At its heart are two short operas by Puccini: Le Villi, his first dramatic work, and Il tabarro, in many regards his most experimental and accomplished score."
The high-octane first "panel" of Il trittico, Puccini's late triptych of one-act operas, Il tabarro opens Program Three, "The Symphonic and the Operatic," the first festival program to feature Botstein leading the American Symphony Orchestra. Starring vocal soloists Kelly Kaduce, Margaret Lattimore, Michael Wade Lee, and Louis Otey, Puccini's opera shares the program with his early orchestral work Capriccio sinfonico and Martucci's First Piano Concerto, in which Bard's soloist is Gilmore Young Artist Award-winner Orion Weiss. During this first weekend, additional events shed further light onPuccini and Italian Musical Culture. Program Two investigates Italian composers' endeavors in chamber music, lieder, and other traditionally Austro-German forms, whileProgram Four examines the search for a successor to Verdi, in which Puccini was rivaled by composers from Leoncavallo to the Brazilian-born Antônio Carlos Gomes, the only non-European to succeed in the golden age of Italian opera.
To conclude the opening weekend, Program Five presents a double-bill of rarities, whenMary Birnbaum makes her Bard directorial debut with semi-stagings of Le Villi and Massenet's La Navarraise. The latter stars French-Canadian mezzo Nora Sourouzian, tenor Sean Panikkar, baritone Levi Hernandez, and bass-baritone Paul Whelan, whileLe Villi, Puccini's first opera, stars Grammy Award-nominated soprano Talise Trevigne - leading lady of SummerScape 2016's mainstage opera, Iris - with Panikkar and Hernandez, supported by Botstein and the American Symphony.
Weekend One's offerings are complemented by panel discussions on "Puccini: The Man and the Reputation" and "Defining the Italian: The Role of Music," with guest speakers including Alessandra Campana, Co-Chair of the Opera Seminar at Harvard's Mahindra Humanities Centre; Linda and Michael Hutcheon, authors of, among other works, Four Last Songs and Opera: The Arts of Dying; and Guggenheim Fellow Arthur Groos.
The Bard Music Festival has impressed critics worldwide. The New York Times reports that "performers engaged by Bard invariably seem energized by the prospect of extending beyond canonical routine, and by an audience that comes prepared with open ears and open minds." As the Wall Street Journal's Barrymore Laurence Scherer observes, the Bard Music Festival "has long been one of the most intellectually stimulating of all American summer festivals and frequently is one of the most musically satisfying."
Since its inception, Botstein and the festival have infused the standard concert repertory with a host of important rediscoveries. As the New Yorker's Alex Ross puts it, "Bard SummerScape and Bard Music Festival always unearth piles of buried treasure." And while the Bard Music Festival's pioneering approach to thematic programming has sometimes been emulated, "Nothing quite compares to the fascinating summer programs popping out of Leon Botstein's brain" (Bloomberg News).
Reviewing a recent season of the festival, the New York Times reported, "As impressive as many of the festival performances were, they were matched by the audience's engagement: strangers met and conversed, analyzing the music they'd heard with sophistication, and a Sunday-morning panel discussion of gender issues in 19th-century culture drew a nearly full house. All told, it was a model for an enlightened society."
Getting to the Bard Music Festival: NYC round-trip bus transportation:
Round-trip bus service is provided exclusively to ticket-holders for the performances marked with an asterisk below. A reservation is required, and may be made by calling the box office at 845-758-7900. The round-trip fare is $40, and the bus departs from Lincoln Center at the times indicated: Program 1: Friday, August 5 at 7:30pm (dinner at 5:30pm) 3:30pm and Program 5: Sunday, August 7 at 4:30pm (preconcert talk at 3:30pm) 12:30pm. Further details are available at fishercenter.bard.edu/transportation.
Bard's sensationally popular European Spiegeltent will be open for lunch and dinner throughout "Puccini and His World," besides playing host to the Bard Music Festival Opening Night Dinner (August 5) and cabaret performances by Mary Testa and Michael Starobin (August 5) and Rufus Wainwright (August 6).