As is customary, SummerScape kicks off with a series of performances from a world-class dance troupe; see the Almanac story on page 6 for more details on the series running July 7 through 10 in the Sosnoff Theater featuring the Tero Saarinen Company. The theatrical facet of the festival gets underway shortly thereafter, with a production of Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 tragicomic masterpiece The Wild Duck, directed by Caitriona McLaughlin. It will be presented in Theater Two on the Bard campus on July 13, 17, 20 and 24 at 3 p.m. and from July 14 to 16 and 21 to 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets go for $45.
Well and good: Ibsen was Norwegian, and Norway abuts Finland, up Lapland way. But sometimes the thematic connections between elements of SummerScape programming aren’t quite so intuitive. I have yet to figure out how Noël Coward’s operetta Bitter Sweet fits in; but that won’t be coming our way until August 4 through 14, so maybe we’ll know more about it by then.
What we do know is that SummerScape traditionally includes both an operetta and a more “serious” opera; and this year’s offering in the latter category at least sports an arguably Nordic accent, even if the subject matter harks back to ancient Greek mythology: the “unjustly neglected” late opera by Richard Strauss titled Die Liebe der Danae. The comic plot concerns a competition for the love of the beautiful mortal princess Danae between Jupiter, king of the Roman gods, and Midas, a lowly donkey driver turned King of Lydia and gifted (or cursed) with the touch that turns all to gold. Soprano Meagan Miller headlines in the role once identified with the great Leontyne Price. Die Liebe der Danae will be performed in the Sosnoff Theater on July 29 and August 5 at 7 p.m. and on July 31 and August 3 and 7 at 3 p.m. Ticket prices for the opera are $30, $60, $70 and $90.
The raison d’etre for SummerScape, of course, is the Bard Music Festival and the composer who serves as its focus for the year. Bard Music Festival weekends – two in August and a couple more in the fall – feature orchestral concerts by the American Symphony Orchestra, chamber and choral music performances, panel discussions and a symposium. This year it’s Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) under the microscope, supplying the sort of red meat for reevaluation that is most relished by the Festival’s participating music experts. Although a survey back in the 1930s identified Sibelius as the most popular classical composer among American audiences, his reputation took a nosedive after critics and fellow composers as eminent as Virgil Thompson began writing unflattering things about him. It probably didn’t help that Sibelius spent the last 30 years of his life promising but not delivering an Eighth Symphony, or that in the mid-1940s he burned several decades’ worth of music manuscripts in his dining room fireplace. It became fashionable in the latter half of the 20th century to regard Sibelius – who based much of his work on Finnish folkloric sources like the Kalevala epic cycle and tended to develop his compositions in a precise, logical and methodical manner – as a timid, simplistic, overly nationalistic, even reactionary composer of easy-listening classical music.
That view has begun to change in recent decades, with critics discerning new strains of innovation and rigor in Sibelius’ work, which Czech author Milan Kundera has described as “antimodern Modernism.” In 1984, American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman gave a lecture in which he stated that “the people you think are radicals might really be conservatives; the people you think are conservatives might really be radical” – whereupon he began to hum Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony.
This year’s Bard Music Festival will explore the full range of Sibelius’ work, his Scandinavian predecessors and contemporaries, his colleagues in Europe and North America. Weekend One, August 12 to 14, “Imagining Finland,” and Weekend Two, August 19 to 21, “Sibelius: Conservative or Modernist?” will orient the composer in Finland and beyond, with politics, literature, painting and architecture all brought to bear in an effort to explode the many clichés about Sibelius that, through praise and criticism alike, trap us in an idea of the composer as quintessentially Finnish and Nordic.
For those seeking less weighty fare, once again the opulent Spiegeltent will return to the Bard campus for the SummerScape season, housing a restaurant and bar, dancefloor and cabaret. There will be a free Dance Party with live music in the mirrored tent on SummerScape’s opening night, Thursday, July 7 beginning at 8:30 p.m. Edgy evening cabaret – for patrons aged 21 and up only – will begin with cross-dressing performance artist Joey Arias on Friday, July 8 and Emmy-winning comic Judy Gold on Saturday, July 9. The weekends to follow will feature Spiegeltent favorites Weimar NYC, the Wau Wau Sisters and more. Afternoon family fare at the Spiegeltent kicks off July 16 and 17 with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. With a few exceptions like the Gala, the Spiegeltent is open for lunch from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and for dinner on Thursdays through Sundays from 5:30 to 8 p.m. through the entire SummerScape season, from July 7 through August 21.
For those of us whose entertainment budgets won’t entertain galas, operas or symphonies, there are still a few bargains to be found at SummerScape. An intriguing Thursday Night Live series of world music performances is scheduled at the Spiegeltent, with tickets going for a reasonable $15 a head. July 14 is Irish Night, July 21 Klezmer Night, July 28 African Night, August 4 Bhangra Night, August 11 Latin Night and August 18 Gypsy Night.
And then, of course, there’s the annual Film Festival, which runs at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays beginning July 14 in the Jim Ottaway, Jr. Film Center, with tickets only $8 apiece. This year’s theme is “Before and after Bergman: The Best of Nordic Film,” with fare ranging from Golden Age Swedish silents to classic Ingmar Bergman and more contemporary Kaurismäki. The Outlaw and His Wife, directed by and starring Victor Sjöström, leads off the series on July 14, followed by Sir Arne’s Treasure, directed by Mauritz Stiller. One wonders whether any of the screenings will open with George Coe’s hilarious short 1968 parody of Bergman’s oeuvre, The Dove (De Düva).
So you’ll have lots of different opportunities to find out why The Wall Street Journal termed Bard SummerScape “one of the most intellectually stimulating of all American summer festivals and frequently…one of the most musically satisfying.” For further information or to purchase tickets or make dining reservations, call the box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit http://fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape/2011.