Bard SummerScape 2014 Presents Weber, Schubert and Von Suppe, Now thru 8/10
Reviving important but neglected operas is one of the ways the Bard SummerScape festival in New York's Annandale-on-Hudson has established itself, and this year's immersion in "Schubert and His World" - culminating in the 25th-anniversary season of the Bard Music Festival - is no exception. To enrich its exploration of the roots of Austro-German Romanticism, Bard presents Euryanthe (1823) by Schubert's contemporary Carl Maria von Weber, marking the opera's first American revival in 100 years. Headlined by Ellie Dehn, Bard's original staging is by Kevin Newbury, creator of SummerScape's production of Richard Strauss's Die Liebe der Danae. Euryanthe's five performances (today, July 25, 27 & 30; August 1 & 3) feature the festival's resident American Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of music director Leon Botstein, who also leads semi-staged performances of Schubert's own seldom-heard opera Fierrabras starring Joseph Kaiser, best known for his leading role in Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of The Magic Flute, on August 17, and of a double-bill of rarities - Schubert's one-act Singspiel Die Verschworenen and Franz von Suppé's operetta Franz Schubert - on August 10.
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) won his greatest success with Der Freischütz, the opera with which he established Germany's own homegrown Romantic opera tradition, free from French and Italian influence and distinguished by novel orchestrations and supernatural elements. His next major contribution to the genre, Euryanthe, has not achieved the same fame. Yet the opera - a story of chivalry, betrayal, innocence, and love, again imbued with the supernatural - was no less ambitious or innovative. Euryanthe, unlike Der Freischütz, was through-composed, heralding a conclusive break with the spoken dialogue of Singspiel, and it was in Euryanthe that Weber first made extensive use of recurring musical motives, bringing cohesiveness to the score and anticipating the Wagnerian technique. Euryanthe remains largely neglected. Only its overture is performed with any regularity; revivals of the opera in its entirety are rare, not least in America, where it has not been seen since the Metropolitan Opera's staging 100 years ago, in 1914.
Bard's upcoming production therefore marks a major historical milestone. In the title role is Ellie Dehn, who portrayed Catherine of Aragon in SummerScape's presentation of Saint-Saëns's Henry VIII two years ago. Opposite her, as Euryanthe's fiancé Adolar, is lyric tenor William Burden, who may be heard on the Metropolitan Opera's 2013 Grammy Award-winning recording ofThe Tempest by Thomas Adès. Soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer sings Euryanthe's ill-fated rival, Eglantine, with bass-baritone Ryan Kuster lending his voice to the role of Lysiart. And playing King Ludwig is Peter Volpe, back at Bard after bringing his voice to 2009's staging of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots.
Irish Times Theatre Award-winner Kevin Newbury returns to direct, following his success with Richard Strauss's Die Liebe der Danae at SummerScape three years ago. Euryanthe's set design is by Victoria "Vita" Tzykun, whose stage credits include Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, and the Kennedy Center, with costumes and lighting by Jessica Jahn and D.M. Wood, both members of the design team behind Die Liebe der Danae. The new production will run for five performances (July 25, 27 & 30; August 1 & 3), with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinee on July 27.
Convinced that opera would bring the fame and fortune that eluded him, Franz Schubert (1797-1828) attempted more than a dozen works for the stage. Perhaps the finest of these is Fierrabras (1823), which was intended, like Euryanthe, for Vienna's Kärntnertor Theater, and marks Schubert's own attempt to compose grand Romantic opera in German. Although it was never staged during his lifetime, the opera - the story of a fictitious Saracen knight at the time of Charlemagne - has since found a following; at its 1988 Austrian premiere, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung declared that, "against the judgment of history," Fierrabras was "triumphantly rescued" at last.
Heading Bard's strong cast in the title role is tenor Joseph Kaiser. Bass Eric Halfvarson, who recently took London's BBC Proms by storm, sings Karl (aka Charlemagne), with soprano Sara Jakubiak, as his daughter, Emma. To portray Karl's knights Roland and Eginhard, baritone Andrew Schroeder, and tenor Eric Barry lend their voices, with mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall as Fierrabras's sister Florinda. Bard's semi-staged production is created by Austin McCormick and Zane Pihlstrom, the director-design team behind such projects as the Minetta Lane Theater's Nutcracker Rouge. Led by Leon Botstein, the performance of Fierrabras on August 17 draws the 25th anniversary season of the Bard Music Festival - and, indeed, the entire seven-week Bard SummerScape festival - to a gripping close.