Saturday, August 24, 2013

Summer Music @ Lincoln Center Festival, Glimmerglass, Bard Summerscape, Encores—Off-Center


Lincoln Center Festival
Performances from July 6-28, 2013
Lincoln Center, New York, NY
lincolncenterfestival.org

Glimmerglass Festival
Performances from July 6-August 24, 2013
Alice Busch Opera Theatre, Cooperstown, NY
glimmerglass.org

Bard Summerscape
Performances from July 5-August 18, 2013
Fischer Center, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
fishercenter.bard.edu

Encores—Off-Center
Performances from July 10-27, 2013
City Center, 131 West 55th Street, New York, NY
nycitycenter.org

Gone are the days when the summer allowed music lovers to catch their breath: in addition to the long-running Glimmerglass Festival (since 1975) and Lincoln Center Festival (since 1996), there’s also Bard Summerscape (in its 12th summer) and a new off-shoot of City Center’s valuable Encores!, titled Encores—Off-Center, all featuring chance-taking rather than reliably safe performances.

Lincoln Center Festival's Michaels Reise um die Erde (photo: Klaus Rudolph)
German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s magnum opus Licht (Light), which comprises seven operas named after the days of the week, would tax any professional opera company. None of the operas has been seen in its entirety in America, so a staged version of Act II of Donnerstag (Thursday), titled Michael’s Journey around the World (Michaels Reise um die Erde), at Lincoln Center Festival was a coup—but if this festival won’t stage an entire Licht cycle opera, none will.

As usual with Stockhausen’s music, what’s essentially a staged trumpet concerto is much more palatable to view than listen to—if nothing else, the German avant-gardist knew how to maximize the dramatics of his performers. Last summer’s New York Philharmonic performance of Gruppen at the Park Avenue Armory was a blast in the same way as Michael: even when the music becomes redundant and impenetrable (which is often), the players’ amazing physical agility retains interest.

As archangel Michael, trumpeter Marco Blaauw had to maneuver through Stockhausen’s complex, tricky score in a bizarre shiny suit while being strapped to a mobile crane that flipped him around and moved him all over the stage to interact with the other instrumentalists (especially basset hornist Nicola Jurgenson in a wonderfully intimate and passionate duet) and the videos and projections in a too-literal but enjoyable production by Carlus Padrissa, with assistance from Roland Olbeter and Franc Aleu. Conductor Peter Rundel and the Ensemble musikFabrik gave Blaauw the sturdy musical backbone he needed for his remarkable feats of movement and musicmaking. 

Glimmerglass Festival's Camelot (photo: Karli Cadel)
Once Glimmerglass Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival has recently added Broadway musicals to its summer offerings at the lovely Alice Busch Opera Theater near bucolic Glimmerglass Lake, just north of Cooperstown. Last summer was The Music Man; next summer will be Carousel. This summer, it was Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot, in a modestly silly staging by Robert Longbottom—a tree made of blades too literally evoked King Arthur’s warring era—helped by a formidable trio in the leads.

David Pittsinger was a sympathetic King Arthur, regal and comic by turns; Andriana Churchman made an alluring and playful Guinevere, while Nathan Gunn was a dashing and irresistible Lancelot. That the musical’s not all seriousness and swordplay is to those of us who expected the target of wicked Monty Python parodies to be eternally dated: but Lerner’s book and lyrics nicely balance drama and humor, Loewe’s songs are always tuneful, and the entire show—even in Longbottom’s lazy staging—still blossomed onstage.

Bard Summerscape's Oresteia (photo: Cory Weaver)
At Bard College’s Summerscape, two hours north of Manhattan, this year’s composer-in-residence (of sorts) was Igor Stravinsky, focus of the two-week Stravinsky and His World, whose orchestral and chamber concerts placed his work in intriguing historical, cultural and musical contexts. A fascinating tangent was the opera Oresteia by fellow Soviet Sergey Taneyev, composed in 1895 and given its American premiere at Bard.

Taneyev’s epic drama—three long acts adding up to nearly four hours from start to finish—set Aeschylus’s trio of classic tragedies to music that’s less than varied, but heroic or tragic by turns. Leon Botstein’s conducting the American Symphony Orchestra left something to be desired, plodding along more than Taneyev’s music warranted. Even less desirable was Thaddeus Strassberger’s production, set in what looked like a dirty basement wing of the Louvre, with paintings, frames and other bric-a-brac needlessly mucking up the works, highlighted by needless gore. Asking a director to clearly and coherently stage a classic drama isn’t so much to ask, is it?

The singers, who could sing their lungs out for a scene or two and then bow out due to a killing or other crime, were on firmer ground. Liuba Sokolova (Clytemnestra), Mikhail Vekua (Orestes) and Maria Litke (Cassandra) were best, giving their all to Taneyev’s stentorian vocal lines, and providing tragic stature to a work that only fitfully approached that goal.

Encores! Off-Center's Violet (photo: Joan Marcus)
The new Encores! summer series, Off-Center, comprised The Cradle Will Rock, Violet and I’m Getting My Act Together…—all unseen (and unheard) for awhile. Composer Jeanine Tesori, also series curator, presented her own chamber folk-opera, Violet, about a hideously disfigured young woman: its country inflections and gospel tunes gave it a superficial veneer of Americana, but it took a true star to help the show take flight, and its one-time-only concert staging got that with the incandescent Sutton Foster.

I missed Getting My Act, but caught The Cradle Will Rock, Marc Blitzstein’s unabashedly pro-socialist agit-prop “play with music” from 1937. This version had its share of star turns, notably silky-voiced Anika Noni Rose, gruffly villainous Danny Burstein and boisterously heroic Raul Esparza. Director Sam Gold contributed nonsensical bits like young Aidan Gemme playing a cop and a professor; but the show remains, appropriately enough for a socialist tract, a true ensemble piece, and the forced parallels between yesterday and today (big business and political figures colluding to keep the little man down) didn’t ruin its pleasurable moments.

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