Bard SummerScape 2017 Presents First Fully Staged Production Of DIMITRIJ, 7/28-8/6
Committed since its inception to reviving important but neglected operas, Bard SummerScape has long proven itself "an indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape" (Musical America). With the long overdue American staged premiere of Antonín Dvo?ák's Dimitrij as its operatic centerpiece, this year's immersion in "Chopin and His World" is no exception.
Featuring Clay Hilley in an original new staging by award-winning director Anne Bogart, Dimitrij runs for five performances between July 28 and August 6, with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinee on July 30. Bard Music Festival 2017 also offers an all-too-rare opportunity to see Stanis?aw Moniuszko's Halka, Poland's first great opera, in a semi-staged performance at the Bard Music Festival (August 19).
Anchored by the American Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of music director and festival co-artistic director Leon Botstein, with the support of the Bard Festival Chorale under James Bagwell, both presentations take place on Bard's glorious Hudson Valley campus in the striking Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center. As the Financial Times notes, "Some of the most important summer opera experiences in the U.S. are not at the better known festivals but at Bard SummerScape."
Antonín Dvo?ák's Dimitrij (1882)
Following Chopin's artistic lineage, Bohemia's Antonín Dvo?ák (1841-1904) is celebrated as one of the Romantic era's great Slavic nationalists. Prolific and versatile, his extensive output includes no fewer than twelve operas, including the fairytale Rusalka, which is still in regular rotation at opera houses around the world. By contrast, his grand opera Dimitrij (1882) is rarely staged outside the Czech Republic, and only received its U.S. concert premiere in 1984, more than a century after its composition. Yet the opera was a popular success at its Prague premiere and has long been recognized as an exemplar of Dvo?ák's signature lyricism and masterfully stirring choral writing.
Heralded by the Boston Globe as "a tragic story that Shakespeare could hardly have bettered," Dimitrij continues 17th-century Russian history where Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov leaves off, vividly depicting the struggle for power during the "Time of Troubles" that ensued in the wake of the Tsar's death. Mistakenly supposing himself to be Dimitrij, the murdered son of Ivan the Terrible, Dvo?ák's protagonist believes he has a legitimate claim to the Russian throne, and leads the Polish army to march on Moscow. When he falls in love with Godunov's daughter, however, and decides to divorce his own Polish wife, he unwittingly triggers the chain of events that will result in his demise. Ultimately tragic, the story of the False Dimitrij pits Orthodox Russia against Catholic Poland, a conflict Dvo?ák captures by setting Eastern Orthodox liturgical harmonies against the mazurka's triple time. Complete with eight-part double choruses of Russians and Poles, the score showcases some of his finest writing, making Dimitrij, as the New York Times writes, "a perfect example of a forgotten opera that deserves to be given exposure."
Marking the long-overdue, first fully staged American production of Dvo?ák'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 new production is 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.
Knowing Dimitrij's absence from the operatic canon, when Bogart first approached the opera, her expectations were low. And yet on closer acquaintance, she found herself unable to account for this omission. She says:
"The more I look at the opera - the architecture of the piece and the absolutely gorgeous music - the more I am completely bewildered why it's not done all the time, why it's not a stable part of the repertoire in the opera world."
About her vision for the upcoming production, she explains:
"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 this instability is very familiar and resonant to our own current moment. 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."
Click here to see Bogart talk further about the historic context for Dimitrij.
Headlining 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 Dvo?ák'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."