Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown at Bard

Liam Bonner, (Henri) and Andriana Chuchman, (Minka) in the Bard SummerScape production of Emmanuel Chabrier’s The King in Spite of Himself. (photo by Cory Weaver)

Every year, one component of the multidimensional Bard SummerScape performing arts extravaganza is a fully staged opera, linked thematically in some way with the composer who is the focus of that year’s Bard Music Festival. In recent years Bard has committed itself to reviving public interest in “unjustly neglected” operas of French provenance – which works perfectly this year, when the Festival is dedicated to “Saint-Saëns and His World.”

But according to Bard president and American Symphony Orchestra (ASO) music director/conductor Leon Botstein, SummerScape organizers wanted to shake things up just a bit this year. “There was great interest in staging a comic opera at SummerScape – something we have not yet done,” he said. Thus, to enrich its immersion in the music of Belle Époque France, Bard SummerScape 2012 will present the first staged revival of The King in Spite of Himself (Le roi malgré lui) by Emmanuel Chabrier in its original version.

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Chabrier is known to the listening public mainly for his boisterous orchestral piece España; but it was the premiere of The King in Spite of Himself that, according to Maurice Ravel, “changed the course of French harmony.” Unfortunately, although that 1887 premiere was a great success, Paris’ Opéra-Comique theatre caught fire after the third performance and the production had to be moved to another venue.

The more-or-less historically accurate plot of this opéra-comique concerns a homesick French noble living in Krakow in 1574, Henri de Valois, who somehow ends up being elected King of Poland, to his great discomfiture. He eventually gets to return to France, where he becomes King Henri III, but not before a considerable amount of musical farce involving conspiracies overheard, contenders for the throne disguised, slaves liberated and long-lost lovers reunited.

Sung in French, with English supertitles, and performed by the ASO, the production represents the first full staging of Leon Botstein’s successful 2005 concert version of the opera, and will feature what The New York Times termed the “lyrical, expressive baritone” of Liam Bonner in the title role. The cast also includes Michele Angelini as Nangis, Andriana Chuchman as Minka, Nathalie Paulin as Alexina, Frédéric Gonçalvés as Fritelli, Jeffrey Mattsey as Laski and Jason Ferrante as Basile. “With Leon Botstein conducting and Thaddeus Strassberger directing, connoisseurs will descend en masse,” predicts Alex Ross in The New Yorker.

The King in Spite of Himself opens this Friday, July 27 in the Sosnoff Theater of the Fisher Center on the Bard campus and runs through August 5. Ticket prices range from $30 to $90, and there will be a free Opera Talk with Leon Botstein preceding the July 29 matinee. For tickets and further information, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu.

Bard SummerScape 2012 presents Chabrier’s comic opera The King in Spite of Himself (Le roi malgré lui) in the Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater, starring Liam Bonner, directed by Thaddeus Strassberger, with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein. Performances begin at 7 p.m. on Fridays, July 27 and August 3; at 3 p.m. on Sundays,

July 29 and August 5 and on Wednesday, August 1. An Opera Talk with Leon Botstein on July 29 at 1 p.m. is free and open to the public. Tickets to the opera performances are priced at $30, $60, $70 and $90 and can be obtained at (845) 758-7900 or www.fishercenter.bard.edu.

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