Because Prokofiev had the bad luck to die in 1953 on the same day as Stalin, recorded music had to be played at his funeral, because all living musicians were required at the former's services. It was just the last in a series of insults that the composer suffered throughout his lifetime. After living in Paris and the US for many years after the first World War, Prokofiev returned to what was then the Soviet Union in 1935, and there suffered through several artistic upheavals, censorship and suppressions that - combined with a series of heart attacks starting in 1941 - probably contributed to a severe reduction in his creative output in later years, and eventually, a relatively early death at the age of 61. He is well-known for his Peter and the Wolf, but also composed a variety of operas, symphonies, film and ballet scores that firmly established his reputation as one of the premier composers of the 20th century.
SummerScape begins with a gala July 4 opening night reception and performance of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, featuring modern choreography by Mark Morris. Mark Primoff, director of communications at Bard, said, "It's a fascinating combination of Prokofiev's original vision and contemporary master Mark Morris." Composed in 1935, Romeo and Juliet's premiere was delayed several times due to changes in the storyline - changes that, according to Primoff, "rubbed Stalin's regime the wrong way." Prokofiev's version had the lovers living happily ever after.
What Bard will be performing will be based on Prokofiev's own vision for the piece, danced by the Mark Morris Dance Group and the American Symphony Orchestra, led by Bard president Leon Botstein. Botstein was intimately involved in this reconstruction, according to Primoff. Romeo and Juliet runs July 4 through 9 at the Sosnoff Theater on the Bard campus.
On July 5, the first of five performances of Peter and the Wolf premieres, complete with scenery designed by Irish rocker Bono. The original Prokofiev composition has been reworked for folk instruments such as the banjo and accordion, and will be performed by the Seezer Ensemble with narration by Fergus O'Farrell. All performances of Peter and the Wolf will be held in the Spiegeltent, and will benefit the Irish Hospice Foundation.
The Spiegeltent is a European tradition that, Brigadoonlike, materializes on the Bard campus each summer for just a few months. It is described as a "glittering mirrored pavilion composed of 3,000 detachable, portable parts, with an eye-filling interior of carved wood surfaces, a parquet floor, beveled mirrors, stained-glass windows and fulsome velvet canopies." As if that weren't enough, the SummerScape schedule is filled with both family and adult events there all summer. There's a Slavic Soul Party, the Wau Wau Sisters, Red Bastard on the docket. Radio Archaeology is a transplanted version of the eclectic WKZE radio show hosted by Bard alumna Raissa St. Pierre.
Prokofiev's infrequently performed ballet Trapeze - complete with acrobats, tightrope-walkers and clowns who will be oh, so at home in the lush surroundings of the Spiegeltent - will be performed July 18 through 20. August 8 through 10 the tent will host "New Albion at SummerScape," billed as a "Festival within a Festival" and offering samples of the latest in West Coast music. The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus will present two evenings of adult-oriented cabaret thrills as well as family fare on August 16 and 17. After 10 p.m. each weekend for the run of SummerScape, the Spiegeltent will be opened as the SpiegelClub, complete with a late-night bar and light tidbits for the stomach and soul.
Bard has a double bill planned for the operatic offerings at SummerScape this year. Karol Szymanowski, a contemporary and countryman of Prokofiev, wrote the romantic opera King Roger in 1924, and it had its premier in Warsaw in 1925. The story is based on the life of a 12th-century Sicilian king. In the opera, King Roger is alarmed by a shepherd who encourages free love in a time of monarchy and regimented lifestyles. Even his queen and court fall under the shepherd's erotic spell. King Roger was the result, in part, of Szymanowski's heightened interest in Greek and Arab literature.
The ballet that will precede King Roger has more obvious influences: those of traditional Polish folklore. Harnasie is another tale of difficult romance, where a peasant bride is seduced by the charms of the rogue Harnas, a highwayman and ringleader. Harnasie and King Roger will be performed in the Sosnoff Theater from July 25 through August 3, with the July 27 performance introduced by an Opera Talk with Botstein at 1 p.m.
Primoff explained that, in selecting operas for SummerScape, "What we do is find wonderful operas that aren't in the standard repertoire." He likened the production values of Bard operas to those of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, but was sympathetic to the reasons that most opera companies are unwilling or unable to take on a lesser-known work. "Opera is very expensive to produce. By and large, many companies try to walk the fine line between commercially popular and important works. There is an incredible amount of opera that doesn't get to see the light of day." Bard audiences, however, are willing to take a chance. "The quality of our productions and our track record are becoming well-known." He added that "For people in this area, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see an extraordinary opera produced in a great hall."
Other theatrical offerings at SummerScape include Uncle Vanya, the Anton Chekhov tragicomedy, starring Peter Dinklage, known to American filmgoers for his moving performance in The Station Agent. Running from July 9 through 20, the modern-dress production will be presented in Theater Two. In contrast, to give 'Scapers a taste of what was trampling the boards in the West in the Twenties, is a production of Of Thee I Sing: the Pulitzer Prizewinning Gershwin musical that may sooth a few frayed nerves in this tense election year. Of Thee I Sing runs from August 1 through 8, also in Theater Two.
The 2008 Film Series at SummerScape is titled "Cinéma Transcontinentale: America, Russia and France in the 1930s. Thirteen films in all, this classic series includes the French Boudu Saved from Drowning; They Won't Forget, produced by MGM's own Mervyn Leroy; and both parts of Ivan the Terrible by Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. Films will be shown in the Ottaway Theater.
The event that started it all, the Bard Summer Music Festival, runs three weekends: August 8 to 10 and 15 to 17 and October 24 to 25. Weekend One's theme is "From East to West," and the selections are inspired by Prokofiev's vagabond lifestyle in the earlier part of the last century. Leaving Russia in 1918, he resided in the US and France, finally returning to what he believed was a new Russia in 1936. Works will include Suggestion Diabolique from Four Pieces, Symphony No. 1 in D Major and Five Poems by Anna Akhmatova. Works by Gliere, Glazunov, Tcherepnin and Stravinsky will be included in this weekend, as will a variety of panel discussions and pre-concert talks.
Weekend Two has been ominously dubbed "The Faustian Pact," and recalls in its selections the time during which Prokofiev endured the censorship of the Stalin Era. Selections in Weekend Two include his Ivan the Terrible, Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil, Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 3 in F Major. Weekend Three's theme is "Prokofiev in America and Russia." Selections from his opera The Love for Three Oranges and Waltz Suite will be performed.
For a complete schedule of events, please go to the Bard College website at www.bard.edu. For tickets, reservations or other information, you can call Bard at (845) 758-7900. Primoff said that the Bard SummerScape schedule is arranged so that "People can do as much or as little as they want." He confidently assured that "There is absolutely no doubt anyone who looks on the website will find something they want to do."