Scan down the list of operas that the Bard Music Festival has been mounting each summer since 2003 and you’ll see “(first fully staged American production)” repeated over and over. This mission to revive important-but-neglected operas has become arguably the flashiest feather in the festival’s cap, and puts the pressure on Bard SummerScape to outdo itself every year with some new find. The unifying theme for 2019 being “Korngold and His World,” American audiences are about to get their first-ever chance on these shores to see the grand opera that Erich Wolfgang Korngold considered his masterpiece, The Miracle of Heliane (Das Wunder der Heliane). It opens on July 26 in the Sosnoff Theater at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on the Bard College campus, with five performances through August 4.
Best-known today for his swashbuckling movie scores after he moved from Vienna to Hollywood, Korngold (1897–1957) began composing operas at the age of 19 and had his first enormous success in 1920 with Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). Two more hit operas followed. But the fourth, The Miracle of Heliane, was dogged by difficulties from the outset. By 1927, when it premiered in Hamburg, the critical tide had turned against Korngold’s conservative compositional style. First caught up in the musical politics of the time, then banned by the Nazis, Heliane all but disappeared from the repertoire, and today, nearly a century later, it has still never been staged in the US.
An allegorical tale about the destruction of a dictatorship by a woman, with a libretto by Hans Müller-Einigen inspired by an Expressionist mystery play by Hans Kaltneker, The Miracle of Heliane is set in an unnamed totalitarian state where an intricate erotic triangle develops among a ruthless despot, the Ruler; his beautiful wife Heliane, with whom he has yet to consummate his marriage; and a young, messianic Stranger. The three central roles will be sung by soprano Ausrine Stundyte, tenor Daniel Brenna and bass/baritone Alfred Walker. Heliane features “Ich ging zu ihm,” one of Korngold’s best-loved arias.
Also in the vocal cast are Jennifer Feinstein, Nicholas Brownlee, David Cangelosi, Derek Taylor, Nathan Berg, Scott Conner, Richard Troxell, Michael Hawk and Kevin Thompson, backed by the Bard Festival Chorale and American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein’s baton. Bard’s new production is directed by German director Christian Räth, in his SummerScape debut.
The Miracle of Heliane’s American premiere gets underway at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 26. Additional performances begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 28 (preceded at noon by a free Opera Talk with Leon Botstein), Wednesday, July 31 and Sunday, August 4, and at 4 p.m. on Friday, August 2. Ticket prices range from $25 to $125. To purchase, and to view the full SummerScape schedule, visit http://fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape or call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900.