Friday, August 01, 2008

I took the laptop with me this year, not knowing if I’d encounter free wireless during my travels but I got lucky the first night out in Kingston, New York on the left bank of the Hudson, right by the bridge leading across the river to Bard College.

Bard has made quite a splash the last several years by holding a summer festival that specifically seeks out material that’s both challenging and out-of-the-way, somethingthat summer festivals rarely do. Since I’m a great fan of exactly such material, it’s surprising that I haven’t made it here before now.

Last year I missed a double bill of one act operas by Alexander Zemlinsky and was very sorry I did, as the beauty and uniqueness of Zemlinsky’s music somehow hasn’t guaranteed him anywhere near frequent enough hearings in this country. For those of you who are Tom Lehrer fans, Zemlinsky is one of the many artists, writers, filmmakers, intellectuals in general, and composers listed among the lovers and husbands in the famous obituary of the legendary Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel.

This year it was the turn of Karol Szymanowski, a Polish composer who seems NOT to have slept with Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel although you never know because the lady clearly got around, and among the best and the brightest at that. (Actually Szymanowski wouldn’t have been on Alma’s list as he lived openly as a homosexual. His death in 1937 assuredly saved him from a far more unfortunate end once the Nazi war machine started rolling through Europe, starting with Poland). Bard presented his operatic masterpiece, Krol Roger (King Roger), preceded by his one act ballet with songs Harnasie (Brigands) that’s set to a bride abduction scenario not unlike the one in Stravinsky’s Les Noces.

To perform both pieces, Bard imported soloists, an entire chorus, a director and a flock of designers from the Wroclaw Opera in Poland, the expense of which must have been staggering. Apparently, the current economy hasn’t put a dent in Bard’s bottom line because the beautiful, sylvan campus positively reeks of endowment and the performance took place in Bard’s Sosnoff Theater in the newish performing arts center designed by architect superstar Frank Gehry.

I managed to drive into the wrong entrance to campus on my way to the performance and wondered how I’d find the theater. And then I said to myself ,”silly boy, it’s a GEHRY building!” and just looked for the gleam of titanium in the setting sun through the trees—and there it was.

Frank likes to design theaters and he’s come up with a winner for Bard. It’s a shameless adaptation of one of he oldest of theater styles, the Italian Baroque horseshoe-shaped opera house, reinterpreted in concrete, steel and wood. Somehow, given the supposed sonic in hospitality of the first two materials, the acoustics are warm, immediate, and crystal clear. The place full of big public spaces. It’s also typically Gehry in that the outer skin is more or less a huge tent over the theater that rises inside it mostly free of attachment to the outer shell, like a building within a building.

Uncharacteristically, this year’s production got torn apart in the press as being under-rehearsed and poorly conducted by Leon Botstein. Perhaps the combination of a large foreign contingent with Botstein’s “own” American Symphony Orchestra hadn’t gone smoothly. By the time I saw the third performance in the run last night, the jumbled orchestral entrances noted in the New York Times seemed to have smoothed out and the Polish singers were clearly in command of their roles, often thrillingly.

The production was jeered at by the Times and the accompanying photo has drawn some major derision from opera blogs, gay ones in particular. In point of fact, nothing much really happened on stage. The ballet was full of action and handsome, half-naked young men (brigandage apparently is best practiced without much on); the opera, on the other hand, was clearly over-dressed, with the singers directed in a stand-and-deliver style where they mostly sang straight out to the audience. There’s a lot more going on in the King Roger story than we saw last night, but what did come across was the absolutely gorgeous score by a composer who should be much better known in this country.

Today, on to Glimmerglass.


Before I left home, I got this picture of the last of the photovoltaic panels being put into position. Fritz tells me that the electrical control panels were installed in the mechanical room Thursday and I wonder if the whole system won’t be hooked up by the end of day today. It has to be fully inspected before it can go into operation, but we should be producing our own electricity by next week!


The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?

(Clearly, some of them a great deal less than others)

The bridge is probably the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. And that was smart of you, to remember who made the building--Gehry's buildings do tend to be rather easy to spot!
I have seen the outside of the performing arts center at Bard.

It's quite impressive to look at, but according to my brother who lives quite close by, it shares another characteristic of Gehry's buildings. It is plagued with problems.
That theater is stunning! I love Szymanowski too and agree with your assessment of him. King Roger is an amazing piece and suprisingly concise. Love it. I mean is there anything better than than the rapturous surrender of Queen Roxane to religious delirium in Act II (that does not involve a lot of lube and a big time committment)? Surely not. I saw it 20 years ago in Long Beach in CA and loved it then. I am green with envy that you will be seeing Das Liebersverbot. (I hope I have the spelling right there.)
as is often the case I am envious of your endeavors. this time it is about the electricity.
I would love to put up some solar panels (we have plenty of sunshine here) but our nasty HOA would string us up.
I don't understand: were the other blogs mocking the coconut-coated peacock tail or the Dairy Queen hairdo over the shiny breastplate? I would wear either of those to the office, though perhaps not on casual Friday.
Ted--there were many ribald comments comparing those costumes to drag queens. You know what gay men are.

Jess--Yes, the Kingston-Rhinecliff. The whole area's very beautiful. And any chance for one more opera is always a good chance.

EvilG--Last time I was in the Stata Center I heard that it's still leaking.

Mark--more on Liebesverbot in my next blog entry. The amazing thing is that Rienzi is being done in New York City next season. All I need now is for somebody to do Die Feen.

Michael--there's going to be a huge issue with Association rules and people who want to go green very soon.
One of the things I discussed when talking about Vienna 1900 is that Europe was riven with exciting new cultural groups emerging in all the great cities. Young Poland, of which Szymanowski was a primary member, was a thrilling non-official coterie. Filled with ambition and politically exciting and culturally diverse ideas, I think we're only now beginning to appreciate the richness of artistic life outside the major centres. So thrilled that the Bard Summer events grow yet more diverse... maybe Schreker next?
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