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Bard SummerScape 2015 Presents America’s First Fully Staged Production of Dame Ethel Smyth’s Opera
The Wreckers
(July 24–Aug 2)

“An indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape.”
Musical America on Bard SummerScape


Image Credit: Todd Norwood
Mark Primoff
845-758-7412
primoff@bard.edu
04-23-2015

Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Reviving important but neglected operas is one of the ways the Bard SummerScape festival has established itself as “a hotbed of intellectual and aesthetic adventure” (New York Times), and this year’s immersion in “Chávez and His World” is no exception. Like Mexican composer Carlos Chávez, who is the focus of this season’s 26th annual Bard Music Festival, Dame Ethel Smyth faced marginalization by the classical community. A Victorian-born Englishwoman, and a bisexual suffragette at that, her music is still only rarely programmed. Although her one-act opera Der Wald has the distinction of remaining the only work by a female composer ever produced at the Metropolitan Opera, The Wreckers (1902-4), her greatest contribution to the genre, has yet to be staged in the United States. SummerScape’s upcoming presentation, then, marks the first fully-staged production of Smyth’s masterpiece in America. Returning to direct is European Opera Prize-winner Thaddeus Strassberger, who scored previous SummerScape hits with Le roi malgré lui, Les Huguenots, Der ferne Klang, and 2013’s first full American staging of Sergei Taneyev’s Oresteia. This was pronounced “a revelation” by the Financial Times, which concluded: “Some of the most important summer opera experiences in the U.S. are not at the better known festivals but at Bard SummerScape.” Taking place on Bard’s glorious Hudson Valley campus in the striking Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center, The Wreckers’ five performances (July 24, 26, 29, & 31; Aug 2) will feature the American Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of music director Leon Botstein, whose 2007 U.S. concert premiere of Smyth’s opera was hailed as “one of the best he has ever put on” (New York Times).

About Ethel Smyth, only female composer staged at Met to date

As Opera News reports, Ethel Smyth (1858–1944) is widely recognized as “the greatest female composer of the 19th and early 20th centuries.” Born into the highly gendered society of Victorian England, she faced numerous obstacles to her career, from the resistance of her military father to the bias of critics who considered her works unfeminine. Nevertheless, her determination prevailed. Not content to write parlor music, she set out to conquer the male-dominated worlds of the opera house and concert hall as well. She gave up composing only when deafness overcame her in later life, by which time her published output encompassed six operas, a concert mass, a double concerto, a choral symphony, songs with piano and orchestral accompaniment, organ pieces, and chamber music, and her craft was such that she counted Tchaikovsky and Debussy among her admirers. As indomitably bold in her personal life as in her career, Smyth’s lovers included both men and women, notably leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Smyth herself became a prominent member of the “Votes for Women” movement, her involvement including a stint in prison and her composition The March of the Women, which was adopted as the suffragettes’ anthem. In recognition of her work as composer, writer, and campaigner, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1922. Smyth herself explained: “I feel I must fight for [my music], because I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs; not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea.

About her most important opera, The Wreckers

It was a local legend about the sea, heard on vacation in Cornwall, that provided Smyth with the inspiration for her third and finest opera. Composed to a libretto by her friend and lover Henry Brewster, The Wreckers (1902-04) depicts the nefarious Cornish coastal practice of luring ships onto the rocks to plunder them. Conflict arises in a remote village community for which, under the leadership of Pastor Pascoe, such wrecking constitutes an act of religious faith. Pitted against this community are Pascoe’s young wife Thirza and her lover Mark, who conspire to save the ships by kindling secret beacons to guide them. Caught red-handed, the lovers are tried by a village tribunal and condemned to die in a sea-filled cave.

The first full-length opera by an English composer to use native setting and folklore, The Wreckers marks the nation’s most important contribution to the genre since the time of Purcell. Thanks to the muscular vigor of Smyth’s writing, it was considered by Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor of its London premiere, as “one of the three or four English operas of real musical merit and vitality.” As Leon Botstein has said,

“There’s a Wagnerian lushness and fullness, the majesty of high drama and the intimacy of a love story. But it has lightness, too, through the use of folk melodies, veering, at times, toward comic opera.”

Smyth’s opera was moreover thematically prescient, addressing the potential dangers of mass hysteria, populist justice, and unquestioned religious faith, all issues with profound resonance for audiences today. After a 1995 concert performance at London’s BBC Proms, the Telegraph declared it a “revelation,” adding: “Those who think that English opera started with Peter Grimes will need to think again.” Similarly, in 2007, when Botstein led the American Symphony Orchestra in the opera’s first U.S. concert performance at Avery Fisher Hall, the New York Times realized, “The Wreckers gets your attention. It charges at the audience with all guns blazing. … Smyth knew what she was doing.” As for the performance, the Times noted, “Mr. Botstein responded with a bang-up (literally) performance, one of the best he has ever put on.

About Bard’s first fully staged American production

As the long overdue first American staging of The Wreckers, Bard’s production not only offers the chance to hear Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra revisit their celebrated interpretation, but marks a major historical milestone. Starring as Thirza is mezzo Katharine Goeldner, familiar from her recent appearances in the title role of Carmen at Lyric Opera of Chicago and in Anna Bolena at Welsh National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. “Goeldner’s intensity is shattering, and she rivets attention during the many moments when called upon to remain alone onstage,” marvels Variety, while New York magazine notes that she gives “as spectacular a demonstration of mezzo-soprano coloratura virtuosity as you are likely to hear anywhere today.” Reprising from Avery Fisher Hall the role of Thirza’s husband, Pascoe, is baritone Louis Otey, whose international credits include the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Covent Garden, and Theater an der Wien. In the title role of Rigoletto, he was “ardent and moving,” impressing the New York Times with his “powerful performance”; as Puccini’s Sharpless, the UK’s Telegraph found him “outstanding.” English tenor Neal Cooper, recognized as a “huge asset” (Sunday Times, UK) to Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House this season, completes The Wreckers’ love triangle as the young fisherman Mark. Australian soprano Sky Ingram, star of director Thaddeus Strassberger’s world premiere production of Glare at Covent Garden this winter, brings her “compelling stage presence, great looks and a versatile soprano voice” (Observer, UK) to the role of young Avis, whose jealousy leads to the lovers’ downfall, with baritone Michael Mayes – “by far the best singer and most convincing actor in the cast” (Wall Street Journal) of San Francisco’s Dead Man Walking this spring – as her father, lighthouse keeper Lawrence.

Directing the production is Thaddeus Strassberger, whose previous SummerScape opera productions are among Bard’s most resounding success stories. The Financial Times declared: “Les Huguenots in Bard’s staging is a thriller from beginning to end. … Five Stars.” New York magazine named his treatment of Der ferne Klang one of the “Top Ten Classical Music Events of 2010”; the Wall Street Journal considered his take on Le roi malgré lui “hilarious”; and his first full American staging of Oresteia was nominated for a 2014 International Opera Award. The Wreckers’ set design is by Erhard Rom, a finalist for the 2015 International Opera “Designer of the Year” Award, with costumes by Kaye Voyce, whose extensive credits range from Broadway to the Royal Shakespeare Company, by way of numerous Bard theater and dance productions. Rounding out The Wreckers’ design team is JAX Messenger, whose lighting previously graced SummerScape’s Oresteia, “serv[ing] admirably to enliven Mr. Strassberger’s eerie, occasionally loopy milieu” (New York Times). The new production will run for five performances (July 24, 26, 29, & 31; Aug 2), with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinee on July 26.

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 – not least, last season’s production of Weber’s Euryanthe, which marked the opera’s first American revival in 100 years. The Wall Street Journal observed,

In the carefully prepared Bard production, the piece holds up well. … Botstein led the American Symphony Orchestra in a lively reading that was particularly sensitive to the details of instrumental mood painting.

The Philadelphia Inquirer agreed: “The big moments came off under conductor Leon Botstein. … Singing was excellent.” Pronouncing Euryanthethe latest of the conductor Leon Botstein’s richly rewarding productions of operatic rarities,” the New York Times concluded:

“[Director] Mr. [Kevin] Newbury and Mr. Botstein admirably – even miraculously – avoid camp. The American Symphony Orchestra plays with sober, purposeful energy, and the production, whose set eloquently blurs the distinction between graceful interiors and nature’s wildness, takes every twist seriously. The cast sings and acts with remarkable restraint.”

As the Financial Times put it, “No opera enthusiast should miss it.”

Illustrating the scope and originality of the festival’s programming, a list of Bard’s previous operatic offerings follows below:

 

2014:            Weber – Euryanthe (first American revival in 100 years)

            Schubert – Fierrabras; Die Verschworenen

            von Suppé – Franz Schubert

2013:            Taneyev – Oresteia (first fully staged production outside Russia)

            Stravinsky – Oedipus Rex, Perséphone, and Mavra

2012:            Chabrier – Le roi malgré lui (first staged revival of original version);

            Saint-Saëns – Henry VIII

2011:            Strauss – Die Liebe der Danae (first fully staged New York production)

2010:            Schreker – Der ferne Klang
            Hindemith – Sancta Susanna

            Weill – Royal Palace

2009:            Meyerbeer – Les Huguenots

2008:            Szymanowski – King Roger; Harnasie (double-bill)

2007:            Zemlinsky – Der Zwerg; Eine florentinische Tragödie (first U.S. double-bill production)

2006:            Schumann – Genoveva (first U.S. professional production)

2005:            Blitzstein – Regina

2004:            Shostakovich – The Nose (first East-coast professional production)

2003:            Janácek – Osud (first U.S. staged production)

 

To quote Musical America, “Bard’s annual opera has become an indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape because the choice of works is invariably inspired and their productions distinctively creative.

 

Opera at Bard SummerScape 2015

 

Ethel Smyth (1858–1944)

The Wreckers (1902-04)

 

American Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger

Set design by Erhard Rom

Costume design by Kaye Voyce

Lighting design by JAX Messenger

 

Pascoe: Louis Otey

Thirza: Katharine Goeldner

Mark: Neal Cooper

Avis: Sky Ingram

Tallan: Dennis Petersen

Lawrence: Michael Mayes

Jack: Kendra Broom

Harvey: Peter Van Derick

 

Sosnoff Theater

July 24* & 31 at 7:30 pm

July 26*, 29 & Aug 2* at 2 pm

Tickets start at $25

 

Opera Talk

July 26 at 12 pm

Free and open to the public

 

Special support for this program is provided by Emily H. Fisher and John Alexander.

 

For color photographs go to:

http://fishercenter.bard.edu/press/photos/?gid=170046#a_media


SummerScape 2015: other key performance dates by genre

 

MUSIC

Bard Music Festival, Weekend One: “The Musical Voice of Mexico” (Aug 7–9)

Bard Music Festival, Weekend Two: “Mexico, Latin America, and Modernism” (Aug 13–16)

 

* Round-trip transportation from Manhattan to Bard is available for certain performances on August 7, 9, 14, and 16. The round-trip fare is $40 and reservations are required; see further details below.

 

THEATER

Rodgers and Hammerstein: Oklahoma!

LUMA Theater

June 25, 26, 27, July 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18 & 19 at 7:30 pm

June 28*, July 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12*, 15, 18 & 19* at 2 pm

Tickets start at $25

 

PERFORMANCE-INSTALLATION

Fernando Rubio: Everything by my side

Fisher Center lawn

July 9, 10, 11 & 12 at 5 pm

July 10 at 2 pm

July 11 & 12 at 12 pm

Tickets: $5 (not discounted in subscription packages)

 

DANCE

Pam Tanowitz Dance & FLUX Quartet

June 27 at 8 pm

June 28* at 3 pm

Sosnoff Theater

Tickets start at $25

 

FILM SERIES

Reinventing Mexico”

Saturday, July 11 to Sunday, Aug 2

Ottaway Film Center

Tickets: $10

 

SPIEGELTENT

Live Music, Cabaret, Festival Dining, and After Hours salon

Dates, times, and prices vary

 

Venues:

SummerScape opera, theater, and dance performances and most Bard Music Festival programs are held in the Sosnoff Theater or the LUMA Theater in Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry and celebrated since its opening as a major architectural landmark in the region. Some chamber programs and other BMF events are in Olin Hall. The Spiegeltent has its own schedule of events, in addition to serving as a restaurant, café, and bar before and after performances. Film Series screenings are at the Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center in the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Center.

 

New York City Round-Trip Bus Transportation:

To make a reservation on the round-trip SummerScape coach provided exclusively to ticket holders for specific performances indicated by * in the listings above, call the box office at 845-758-7900 or select this option when purchasing tickets. The round-trip fare is $40 and reservations are required. The coach departs from behind Lincoln Center, on Amsterdam Avenue between 64th and 65th Street. Find additional details at: fishercenter.bard.edu/transportation.

 

Bard SummerScape Ticket Information

 

For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu. Fisher Center members receive priority access to the best seats in advance, and those who join the Center’s email list receive advance booking opportunities as well as regular news and updates.

 

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This event was last updated on 04-23-2015