Among the most anticipated summer pleasures of the mid-Hudson Valley is Bard SummerScape, which uses a celebration of a different particular classical composer each year as an excuse to unlock a treasure chest full of cultural delights that look both backwards and forwards in time. Some of the offerings seem, on the face of it, to have rather tenuous connections to the Bard Music Festival’s focal composer; but innovative lateral thinking is what the college’s approach to intellectual inquiry is all about.
The 27th annual Bard Music Festival will put “Giacomo Puccini and His World” under the microscope, with “Puccini and Italian Musical Culture” the theme of Weekend One (August 5 to 7) and “Beyond Verismo” for Weekend Two, August 12 to 14. Puccini is famed for having composed some of the most popular and widely performed works in the standard operatic canon, including Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, La Fanciulla del West and Turandot; but the Festival will mainly dust off lesser-known works by the composer and his contemporaries, those who influenced and were influenced by him.
The first two weeks of SummerScape traditionally focus on dance and theater, respectively. This year is no exception, but finding the links to Puccini is a bit of a puzzler. What the dance and theatrical performances do have in common with one another is much more obvious: Both involve puppets. A quick Google search turns up no apparent interest in puppetry on the composer’s part, but it does disclose that in 1956, long after the composer’s death, Japan’s Bunraku puppet theater performed an adaptation of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (which was not particularly successful without the music, apparently). And in 2005, Bunraku-style puppets were incorporated into a staging of that same work by Anthony Minghella at the English National Opera.
Are we connecting these dots into any sort of coherent picture yet? Mmm, perhaps not. But both shows sound intriguing even in a vacuum. This weekend, Rosendale master puppeteer, the Redwing Blackbird Theater’s Amy Trompetter, joins choreographer John Heginbotham, formerly of the Mark Morris Dance Group, to present the world premiere of Fantasque. Puccini contemporary Ottorino Respighi adapted a suite of piano works by Giaochino Rossini to create the ballet score La Boutique fantasque, which was performed by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1919. In Heginbotham and Trompetter’s entirely new version, “Giant puppets and human dancers join forces to create a fable of a battle of light and darkness, with a fantastical cast of characters featuring giant babies, blue angels, devils, rats and a restaurant where the customers are tuxedo-wearing fish.” It’s a family-friendly show and will be performed in the Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater at 7:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, July 1 and 2, with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinée on July 3. Ticket prices range from $25 to $60.
Then comes another world premiere: Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed, a contemporary staging of four puppet plays written in 1917 by leading Italian Futurist artist/designer Fortunato Depero, newly rediscovered, translated, designed and directed by Hudson Valley-based, Obie and Bessie Award-winning artist Dan Hurlin. Combining traditional Bunraku puppetry techniques with state-of-the-art technology – from 3-D printing to sound sampling – and a live score from Tony Award-nominated composer/sound designer Dan Moses Schreier, the production will be mounted in the black-box LUMA Theater at the Fisher Center.
Depero (1892-1960) is known, among other distinctions, as the author of the manifesto Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe, and for his collaboration with Swiss writer Gilbert Clavel, I Balli Plastici, a ballet for machinelike wooden puppets, simulating the Futurist ideal of technology’s breaking free of human influence. That one was written in 1918, anticipating a perennially popular theme in science fiction from the 1930s right on up to the present: artificial intelligence that outsmarts and rebels against its creators.
Hurlin unearthed the four Depero puppet plays while doing research under a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. These short, wordless dramas are precursors to I Balli Plastici and mark the beginning of Depero’s long involvement with performance, as well as his desire to combine all media and disciplines into one comprehensive gesamtwerk. Gathered together as Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed, the four plays are titled Acrobatic Suicides and Homicides, Automatic Thief, Electric Adventure and Safe. Dialogue-free and packed with surreal imagery, they represent a masterful marriage of playful whimsy with violence and menace.
Suitable for ages 12 and up, this “puppet noir” production will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, July 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, July 10 and 17, Wednesday, July 13 and Saturday, July 16. Ticket prices range from $25 to $60.
Bard SummerScape 2016 will continue with performances of Pietro Mascagni’s opera Iris on July 22, 24, 27, 29 and 31. The Ottaway Film Center will host a twice-weekly film series titled “Puccini and the Operatic Impulse in Cinema” beginning July 21, with a special emphasis on the works of Luchino Visconti. And all summer long, the fabulous Spiegeltent will serve up edgy cabaret-style live entertainment along with drinks, food and dancing in a magical café setting.
For tickets and info on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit https://fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape.