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Bard Summerscape offers Puccini

Opera preview
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Mon Jul 18th, 2016

Cast of Irish from left: Gerard Schneider, Talise Trevigne, Douglas Williams.

Teaser photo of Talise Trevigne.

This Friday evening Bard Summerscape, a study of Giacomo Puccini and his times, will open with a rarely staged opera, Iris (1898) by Pietro Mascagni. This opera features dreamlike, surrealist, impressionistic scores that trace “a young woman’s brutal transformation from idyllic isolated youth to exploited maturity as she is stolen from childhood into the erotic underbelly of society,” according to director James Darrah.

Bard President Leon Botstein notes that “Iris was in its time an experiment that sought to integrate naturalism with symbolism into opera, using the rich palette of turn-of-the-century chromatic harmony and orchestral sonority in combination with alluring and consistently stunning melodic vocal writing.”

Puccini admired his friend’s opera with its Japanese setting, yet he was determined to surpass his friend’s achievement with a new opera, Madame Butterfly, which flopped at its opening. Puccini worked hard with revisions to forge his great masterpiece. For many opera enthusiasts Madame Butterfly remains their favorite opera. This is an unusual opportunity to see and hear what Puccini strove to surpass. Buses will be arriving from Manhattan and elsewhere to enjoy the spectacle.

The reason this event possesses an exclamation mark is that Grammy-nominated Talise Trevigne, who recently proved herself “a Butterfly worthy of mention alongside Maria Callas” (Voix des Arts), will star in the production. She will be accompanied by  bass-baritone Douglas Williams as the villainous brothel-keeper Kyoto; Austrian-Australian tenor Gerard Schneider will play Osaka, the rich young man whose treachery spells Iris’s downfall; acclaimed bass Matt Boehler will play Iris’ father.

Bard Summersacpe will offer more opera than ever before—four of the eleven concerts will be opera: excerpts from Nerone (1877–1918) by Arrigo Boito; Loreley (1890) by Alfredo Catalani and Puccini’s own beloved Manon Lescaut (1893). Also a production of Puccini’s Il tabarro (1916).

The Turandot Project (August 14), presents the East Coast premiere of Luciano Berio’s 2001 completion of the final act of Puccini’s Turandot (1924), alongside Ferruccio Busoni’s setting of the same story (1917). Berio’s conclusion marks an alternative to the more familiar version by Puccini’s contemporary Franco Alfano.

Returning to helm semi-staged productions is R. B. Schlather, praised by the New York Times for his “intriguing, inventive directorial vision.” If this is not enough opera for you, there will be more: semi-staged productions of Jules Massenet’s La Navarraise (1894) and Le Villi (1884), Puccini’s first opera, both under direction of Mary Birnbaum. I’ve always wondered about Le Villi, a one-act opera based upon a short story by journalist and novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-90), who may be considered the godfather of American New Journalism, as well as the author of the famous phrase “Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose.”

For fans and scholars there will be a cornucopia of lectures, seminars, and panel debates on Puccini and his controversial legacy. A full schedule may be accessed at: Box office phone: 845-758-7900. Since many people outside of Dutchess County will be attracted to these exciting venues, it is strongly advised that tickets or subscription be made as soon as possible.