Bard SummerScape 2019 Presents American Premiere Of THE MIRACLE OF HELIANE
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). This year's immersion in "Korngold and His World" is no exception, presenting as its operatic centerpiece the long overdue American premiere of The Miracle of Heliane ("Das Wunder der Heliane"), the grand opera that Erich Wolfgang Korngold considered his masterpiece. Featuring Ausrine Stundyte, Daniel Brenna, Alfred Walker and the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein's leadership in an original staging by German director Christian Räth, The Miracle of Heliane will run for five performances between July 26 and August 4, with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinee on July 28. SummerScape 2019 also provides the chance to sample some of the operettas written and arranged by Korngold and his contemporaries in "Operetta's America" (August 11) and to see his best-loved opera, Die tote Stadt ("The Dead City"; August 18), during the 30th anniversary season of the Bard Music Festival. Anchored by the Bard Festival Chorale under the direction of James Bagwell, all three 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 ... at Bard Summerscape." Click here to see a celebration of opera at Bard Summerscape.
The Miracle of Heliane ("Das Wunder der Heliane," 1927)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), whose lush Romanticism would come to define the quintessential Hollywood sound, began his career as a classical prodigy in fin-de-siècle Vienna, becoming a respected opera composer at just 19. Yet, despite the success of his first three operas, the fourth - The Miracle of Heliane ("Das Wunder der Heliane," 1927) - was dogged by difficulties from the outset. First caught up in the musical politics of the time, then banned by the Nazis after its acclaimed Hamburg premiere, Heliane all but disappeared from the repertoire, and today, almost a hundred years later, has still never been staged in the United States.
This represents a considerable loss. Heliane features "Ich ging zu ihm," one of Korngold's best-loved arias, and the composer himself considered the opera his most important work. There are many who agree. Styling the opera "a huge, triumphant song of love and liberation on the grandest scale," The Guardian explains:
"Korngold's music had always been rich and sensual, but he outdid himself in Heliane. He reached the limits of his language in adventurous textures and bold harmonies, stretching his lavish orchestral and vocal resources to the utmost."
Indeed, for Brendan G. Carroll, President of the International Korngold Society, Heliane is not only "arguably the composer's greatest work," but also one that stands "among the masterpieces of Romantic opera."
Set to a libretto inspired by an Expressionist mystery play, The Miracle of Heliane takes place in an unnamed totalitarian state, where an erotic triangle develops between a ruthless despot, the Ruler; his beautiful wife, Heliane, with whom he has yet to consummate his marriage; and a young, messianic Stranger.
Marking the long overdue American premiere of The Miracle of Heliane, Bard's new production is directed by German director Christian Räth, of whom Austria's Die Presse writes:
"Räth tells the story with great skill, exactly as the composer intended. ... The interpersonal relationships are worked out so well that you not only hear the ambiguities and uncertainties, you see them too."
Räth's work has graced stages from the Vienna State Opera to New York's Metropolitan Opera, where he is currently leading the revival of La fille du regiment. About the upcoming SummerScape production, he explains:
"Das Wunder der Heliane is a dark mystery play, an intimate psychodrama and an epic dystopian political thriller all at once. The opera makes us take part in the riveting emotional journey of a woman, who defies a brutal and contemptuous dictatorship by overcoming her fears and doubts and claiming her right to compassion, love and desire. Her feminine courage and her strength of belief in humanity represent the actual miracle that opens the gates to freedom and redemption."
The opera's sets and costumes are the work of Esther Bialas, the Berlin-based designer behind Barrie Kosky's electrifying production of The Magic Flute, already the toast of three continents and coming to New York this summer. Heliane also features choreography by Catherine Galasso, whose work has been nominated for both "Bessie" and Isadora Duncan Dance Awards; lighting design by Thomas Hase, as seen at LA Opera, New York City Opera, and BAM Next Wave; and projections by Elaine McCarthy, whose work for the world-premiere production of Moby-Dick prompted the New York Times to marvel: "What truly set this production apart were Elaine J. McCarthy's innovative projections."
Lithuanian soprano Ausrine Stundyte will make a rare U.S. appearance in a reprise of the title role in which she recently gave a "transcendent performance" (Bachtrack) in Belgium. She is perhaps best-known for her debut in the Berlin State Opera's Salome last year, where her "full-blooded, searing performance, replete with musical and psychological nuance," impressed Opera News as "sensational." The role of the Stranger will be sung by Wagner Award-winner Daniel Brenna, "one of the best-known heldentenors of his generation" (Opera Wire), with the Ruler of bass-baritone Alfred Walker, who proved "outstanding" as Wagner's Flying Dutchman in Basel, where his interpretation impressed Germany's Die Welt as being both "fiery and chilling."
They will be joined by Jennifer Feinstein - "an expressive and vibrant mezzo" (Opera News) - as the Messenger; Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Prize-winning bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee as the Porter; and tenor and regular Met principal David Cangelosi as the Blind Judge. The six additional judges will be sung by Derek Taylor, who boasts a "steely, substantial tenor" (Opera Today); bass-baritone Nathan Berg, "a brilliant actor and a palpable presence on stage" (Financial Times); bass Scott Conner, who recently appeared alongside Plácido Domingo in Gianni Schicchi at the Met; tenor Richard Troxell, "a dashing presence, a matinee idol with a big, ringing voice" (Boston Phoenix); baritone Michael Hawk, who made his LA Opera debut in Satyagraha earlier this season; and bass Kevin Thompson, whose "mountain of a voice, with resonance from the Escorial of Philip II, the throne of Boris Godunov, and the majestic court of Sarastro, ... delivered all the goods" (San Francisco Classical Voice).
"Operetta's America," Bard Music Festival Program 6
Korngold enjoyed a second, more lucrative career as an expert adapter and expander of classic Viennese operetta, and it was he who spearheaded the Johann Strauss II revival of the 1920s. Working with famed director and producer Max Reinhardt, he achieved his greatest success with Rosalinda, a restructured version of Die Fledermaus that - with choreography by George Balanchine and initially with Korngold himself conducting from the piano - ran for more than 600 performances on Broadway. The New World not only provided new audiences but also new inspiration for operetta, as the works excerpted in the Bard Music Festival's Program Six, "Operetta's America," reveal. These include such rarities as Leo Fall's Rosen aus Florida, which Korngold recreated from incomplete sketches provided by the composer's widow; The Dollar Princess, also by Fall, and adapted by musical theater legend Jerome Kern; Emmerich Kálmán's Die Herzogin von Chicago, which mingles Viennese waltz with jazz; and Oscar Straus's Hochzeit in Hollywood, the basis for a subsequent musical film.
Korngold's Die tote Stadt (1920), Bard Music Festival Program 12
In the years between the wars, Korngold was, after Richard Strauss, the most performed opera composer in the German-speaking world, due in no small part to the sensational success of his first full-length opera, Die tote Stadt ("The Dead City"). Composed in his early 20s to a libretto that he wrote under a pseudonym with help from his father, Die tote Stadt soon dominated the opera scene. Already a hit at its simultaneous premieres in Hamburg and Cologne, the work went on to triumph in Vienna, Berlin, and New York, where it was the first new German-language opera to be mounted at the Metropolitan Opera since the beginning of World War I.
Based on a novel by Belgian Symbolist poet Georges Rodenbach, Die tote Stadt is a heady, haunting story of love and obsession. It is set in a surreal version of Bruges, where protagonist Paul is mourning the death of his saintly young wife, Marie. When he meets Marietta, a seductive dancer bearing an uncanny resemblance to Marie, Paul develops an unhealthy fixation with her, and finds himself torn between temptation and the memory of his wife. This internal struggle and the story's eerie, hallucinatory setting inspired some of Korngold's most intoxicating music, including such beloved arias as "Mariettas Lied" and "Pierrots Tanzlied." "Sumptuously lyrical, theatrically vivid and glitteringly orchestrated" (New York Times), Die tote Stadt suffuses the idioms of Mahler's Vienna with the lyricism of Italian verismo.
Anchored by The Orchestra Now (T?N), Bard's graduate training orchestra, under Botstein's leadership, Bard's semi-staged production of the opera is by Brooklyn-based opera, theater, and film director Jordan Fein. Fein's work in film has been recognized with three Cannes Lions awards, while his work in opera and theater has been produced and developed by companies including Opera Philadelphia, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Ars Nova, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Joe's Pub, and Harvard's American Repertory Theater.
Soprano Allison Oakes, who swept the 2010 International Lauritz Melchior Wagner Competition, stars as Marie/Marietta, the dual role in which she proved herself "a singer who could scale the heights of Korngold's music with soaring beauty" (Bachtrack) in Hamburg last fall. Tenor Clay Hilley, acclaimed by the New York Times for his "vocal heft, clarion sound and stamina," returns to Bard to sing Paul, after headlining Dvo?ák's Dimitrij at SummerScape 2017. Alexander Birch Elliott, whose baritone impressed the New York Times with its "heated intensity and beguiling timbre of mahogany," rounds out the trio of principals as Paul's friend Frank/Fritz.
About opera at Bard Summerscape
Since the opening of the Fisher Center at Bard, Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra have been responsible for championing and restoring to the stage a growing number of important but long-neglected operas. All these presentations and their remarkable stagings have been warmly received by audiences and critics alike. Last season, thanks to the composer's "rhapsodically lyrical" music, Bard's "sensitive reading of the opera," and the "surging, rich performance Mr. Botstein drew from the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Festival Chorale," the New York Times declared Anton Rubinstein's Demon to be "a winner." As Musical America recognizes: "Bard's annual opera has become an indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape."
Tickets for all Bard Summerscape events are now on sale. For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape.