Culture at the crossroads in Belle Époque France will be explored at the ninth annual Bard SummerScape festival, which once again features a sumptuous tapestry of music, opera, theater, dance, film, and cabaret, keyed to the theme of the 23rd annual Bard Music Festival. Presented in the striking Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College’s bucolic Hudson River campus, the seven-week festival opens on July 6 with the first of three performances by France’s Compagnie Fêtes Galantes, and closes on August 19 with a party in Bard’s beloved Spiegeltent, which returns for the full seven weeks. This year’s Bard Music Festival explores “Saint-Saëns and His World,” and some of the great French composer’s most innovative compatriots provide other SummerScape highlights, including Emmanuel Chabrier’s opéra-comique The King In Spite of Himself in a first staged revival of the original 1887 version; Molière’s final comedy of manners, The Imaginary Invalid (1673); and a film festival, “France and the Colonial Imagination.” Together, Bard’s offerings present a vivid portrait of a dazzlingly creative and colorful era in European history: a Golden Age of promise and possibility that came to end with the tragedy of World War I.
Dubbed “part boot camp for the brain, part spa for the spirit” by the New York Times, the Bard Music Festival provides the creative inspiration for SummerScape, presenting “Saint-Saëns and His World”: a far-reaching and illuminating program of orchestral, choral, and chamber concerts, as well as preconcert talks and panel discussions, all devoted to examining the life and times of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921). The French composer’s long career not only spanned the course of French music from Gounod to Ravel but, thanks to his co-founding the influential Société Nationale de Musique, helped shape it too. His own prodigious compositional output reflects his virtuosity on piano and organ, and, in its advanced chromaticism, his championship of Wagner and Liszt. Yet the clean, almost classical transparency, and the brilliant glitter of his orchestration, help define a sound that is unmistakably French. The Bard Music Festival offers an immersion in French late-Romanticism with its trademark opulence and emotional richness – from luminaries like César Franck and Claude Debussy to lesser-known figures like Cécile Chaminade – while also contextualizing Saint-Saëns within the wider musical world, alongside composers both conservative and modernist. A wide range of Saint-Saëns’s music will be performed, from popular works such as the “Organ” Symphony, to his rarely performed “biblical poem,” Le déluge (“The Flood”). With its recognized gift for thematic programming, Bard achieves a depth and breadth of musical and cultural discovery that is truly unique. The two weekends of the Bard Music Festival will take place on August 10-12 and August 17-19 (see further details below).
The American Symphony Orchestra, under its music director, Leon Botstein, is in residence at Bard throughout SummerScape. Bard’s annual opera will be the first staged revival of the original 1887 version of The King in Spite of Himself (“Le roi malgré lui”), an opera by Saint-Saëns’s compatriot and contemporary Emmanuel Chabrier. Conducted by Botstein, whose 2005 concert performance of the opéra-comique was “vibrant and assured” (New York Times), the production will receive a contemporary treatment from Thaddeus Strassberger, director of SummerScape’s previous, celebrated productions of Les Huguenots and The Distant Sound. In theater, Bard will present Molière’s final play, The Imaginary Invalid (Le malade imaginaire, 1673); blending satire with farce in an indictment of the medical profession, this classic comedy of manners will be directed by Princess Grace Award-winner Erica Schmidt, creator of three previous SummerScape offerings: The Tender Land, The Sorcerer, and Uncle Vanya. A significant dance performance has opened SummerScape each year since 2005. This year, the Compagnie Fêtes Galantes will launch the festival with Que ma joie demeure (“Let My Joy Remain,” 2002), which celebrates the sublime music of Baroque master J.S. Bach with Béatrice Massin’s contemporary choreography.
Imported from Europe for its seventh SummerScape season, Bard’s authentic and sensationally popular Spiegeltent is a handmade pavilion decorated with mirrors, centered on a theater-in-the-round that doubles as a dance floor. Offering food, beverages, and entertainment on Thursdays through Sundays throughout SummerScape, the mirrored tent is the festival’s center for fun and refreshments. During weekend days the glittering “tent of dreams” hosts family programs, and in the evening there’s a lineup of cutting-edge cabaret and musical performances, with post-show dancing and drinks.
London’s Times Literary Supplement lauded SummerScape as “the most intellectually ambitious of America’s summer music festivals.” The New Yorker called it “one of the major upstate festivals,” and American Record Guide agreed, “Bard’s SummerScape has to be one of the New York area’s great seasonal escapes.” Travel and Leisure reported, “Gehry’s acclaimed concert hall provides a spectacular venue for innovative fare.” Newsday called SummerScape “brave and brainy,” Musical America judged it “awesomely intensive,” the New York Times pronounced it “ever a hotbed of intellectual and aesthetic adventure,” and the New York Sun observed, “Bard…offers one of the best lineups of the summer for fans of any arts discipline.”