Bard SummerScape is seriously on a roll. Its revisionist 2015 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! was quickly picked up by St. Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, moved to Circle in the Square in April and announced an extension of its Broadway run into 2020 just as it was getting nominated for eight Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Director for Daniel Fish. You could have seen it at the Fisher Center for much less than tickets are going for now, had you only known what a smash it would become.
The good news is that every summer, you get another opportunity to catch some up-and-coming stagework at SummerScape before the rest of the planet discovers it. This year, Fish – who first developed his nervy spin on Oklahoma! as a Bard student production in 2007 – will be back with a newish musical titled Acquanetta, which had its premiere in 2017 at New York’s Prototype Festival. With songs composed by Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon and a libretto by Deborah Artman, Acquanetta is the story of a B-movie star with a mysterious past. Her real name was Mildred Davenport, but the exotic beauty perhaps best-known for Tarzan and the Leopard Woman is said to have given a different version of her past in every interview. Combining theater, opera and film in a haunting meditation on identity, transformation, types and typecasting, Acquanetta will have ten performances between July 11 and 21 in Bard’s LUMA Theater, the black-box space just to the left of the Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater.
What makes this play particularly apt for the 2019 lineup is the fact that SummerScape’s central event, the Bard Musical Festival, this year will focus for the first time on a composer best-remembered for his film scores: Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). An Austrian Jew and child prodigy who was lauded as a genius by the likes of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, Korngold had already established a strong reputation in Europe as a Romantic composer and pianist before fleeing the rise of Nazism to work in Hollywood. He is credited as the first to bring lush orchestral scores to the silver screen, winning Oscars for Anthony Adverse and The Adventures of Robin Hood, propelling Errol Flynn to stardom in a series of swashbuckling adventure movies and later inspiring several generations of film composers. John Williams credits Korngold’s score for King’s Row as his major influence for the Star Wars scores.
Korngold’s first enormous success was the 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), and that will be performed as the final program of the 30th Bard Music Festival, “Korngold and His World,” to be held over the weekends of August 9-11 (“Korngold and Vienna”) and August 16-18 (“Korngold in America”). But by 1927, when he premiered Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane), the opera that he regarded as his masterwork, the critical tide had turned against Korngold’s conservative compositional style. Heliane never made it to a US production – until now. The erotically charged parable of a ruthless despot, his beautiful wife and a messianic stranger will join the list of “unjustly forgotten” operas exhumed as an ongoing Bard SummerScape tradition. Directed by Christian Räth, the American premiere of The Miracle of Heliane will feature soprano Ausrine Stundyte, tenor Daniel Brenna and bass/baritone Alfred Walker, backed by the Bard Festival Chorale and American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein’s baton. There will be five performances in the Sosnoff Theater between July 26 and August 4.
SummerScape 2019’s big dance offering, kicking the festival into high gear over the weekend of July 5 to 7, features Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, A Dance Company performing Grace and Mercy. Blending modern dance and West African idioms to depict a spiritual journey to the Promised Land, Grace is a reworking of a piece originally created by Brown for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in 1998. Mercy is a SummerScape commission that will be getting its world premiere at Bard’s Sosnoff Theater, with original music written and performed live by Meshell Ndegeocello.
The SummerScape film series, “Korngold and the Poetry of Cinema,” will run from July 25 to August 18. It will feature four movies scored by Korngold – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Captain Blood (1935), The Sea Wolf (1941) and King’s Row (1942) – plus two films exploring Viennese culture in the early decades of the 20th century and three later Hollywood movies scored by composers heavily influenced by Korngold. Cabaret, live music and after-hours dancing will return to the Bard Spiegeltent from June 29 until SummerScape winds up on August 17.
Ticket prices for Bard SummerScape offerings range from free for a panel discussion and $10 for a movie to $25-$75 for a concert and $125 for a full-blown opera production. To purchase, and to view the full schedule, visit http://fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape or call the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts box office at (845) 758-7900.