Fish Directs ACQUANETTA At Bard SummerScape
The 2019 Bard SummerScape festival takes a contemporary look at Hollywood's Golden Age in Acquanetta, a visual and musical tour-de-force inspired by the eponymous B-movie star with a mysterious past. Combining theater, opera, and film in a haunting meditation on identity, transformation, stereotypes, and typecasting from composer and Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon and his longtime collaborator, librettist Deborah Artman, Acquanetta originally premiered at the PROTOTYPE Festival, where it was a New York Times and New York Magazine "Critics' Pick" and one of the New York Classical Review's "Top Ten Performances of 2018."by Daniel Fish, whose previous SummerScape staging (a revelatory new take on Oklahoma!), scoring the visionary director a 2019 Tony nomination.
Starring Rebecca L. Hargrove, Amelia Watkins, Eliza Bagg, Christopher Burchett, and Timur, accompanied by members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Bang on a Can Opera ensemble under the baton of Grammy-nominated conductor Julian Wachner, Acquanetta will be presented in ten performances between July 11 and July 21 in the LUMA Theater of the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, on Bard's idyllic Hudson Valley campus.
To create their work, Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman drew inspiration from the obituary of Acquanetta (1921-2004), or Mildred Davenport, as she was originally named. Known for her exotic beauty, Acquanetta headlined such 1940s horror films as Captive Wild Woman, Jungle Woman, The Sword of Monte Cristo, and Tarzan and the Leopard Woman. Though thought to be of Arapaho heritage, she was billed as the "Venezuelan Volcano" and gave a different version of her past in every interview.
The catalyst for Acquanetta is a scene from the 1943 cult classic Captive Wild Woman, in which a mad doctor conducts a doomed experiment to create a woman by transplanting a human female's brain and glands into a gorilla. Artman explains: "We decided to make the opera based on the laboratory scene and use it as a metaphor for layers of identity. Acquanetta's story is a quintessential story about how women often have to conceal their truth and hide in plain sight, reinventing themselves to fit an accepted narrative.
It has even more resonance now in the current climate when the role of women in power structures is being reevaluated and scrutinized. I'm thrilled that Bard SummerScape is bringing our opera to my home in the Hudson Valley." In Artman's libretto, the characters function both as actors playing roles and as the parts they are playing, revealing their inner longings as they wrestle with identity, stereotypes, and typecasting. Gordon says: "Deborah very cleverly looked into the background and the personal stories of the people in that scene. Every one of the characters in that scene has a story to tell that's multi-dimensional."
About her collaborators' contributions to the project, Artman adds: "Daniel Fish, our director, has cracked the opera open and elevated it to an electrifying opera-film-theater hybrid never before seen in the opera community. It's immensely fun with Michael Gordon's dance-in-your-seat music, eerie sounds, and beautiful, layered voices." When Acquanetta premiered at Brooklyn's PROTOTYPE Festival last year, it was hailed as "a major addition to this composer's canon" (New York Times). New York Classical Review elaborated: "Gordon, who has put together one of the greatest bodies of work in contemporary classical music while somehow staying just off the radar, has created something consequential again with Acquanetta.
Seeing it is fun in the way of great movies - every moment is vivid and compelling, and the sheer entertainment (which is spectacular) leaves a plangent, lasting aftertaste of emotional mystery and power. ... A historic milestone." As for Fish's production, the New York Times observed: "Some of the ways his staging builds and releases tension are too good to spoil." "The cathartic finale sent me staggering out of the theater," agreed the New York Observer. As the Theatre Times put it, "Acquanetta, as entertaining and funny as it is, will have you thinking about it for days."
Music by Michael Gordon
Libretto by Deborah Artman
Directed by Daniel Fish
Conducted by Julian Wachner
Produced by Beth Morrison Projects
Acquanetta: Rebecca L. Hargrove
Brainy Woman: Amelia Watkins
Ape: Eliza Bagg
Director: Christopher Burchett
Scenic design by Amy Rubin
Video design by Joshua Higgason
Costume design by Terese Wadden
Lighting design by Barbara Samuels
Sound design by Garth MacAleavey
Dramaturgy by Michael R. Jackson
Members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street
Members of Bang on a Can Opera ensemble
Opening Night Reception for Members: Friday, July 12
Pre-Performance Conversation: Sunday, July 14 at 1pm
Post-Performance Conversation: Wednesday, July 17
Thursday, July 11 at 8pm
Friday, July 12 at 8pm*
Saturday, July 13 at 2pm
Sunday, July 14 at 2pm*
Wednesday, July 17 at 2pm
Thursday, July 18 at 8pm
Friday, July 19 at 8pm
Saturday, July 20 at 2pm
Saturday, July 20 at 8pm
Sunday, July 21 at 2pm
Tickets: $25 to $75
LUMA Theater, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts