Press Room

2009 Bard SummerScape Festival Presents Seldom-Heard Opera and Oratorio

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – With a long and distinguished history of presenting the unusual, Bard SummerScape will produce one of music history’s most challenging operas: Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 1836 masterpiece, Les Huguenots. The production opens on July 31 for four performances. Two days after the final performance, Bard presents Felix Mendelssohn’s seldom-performed biblical oratorio St. Paul (Paulus) in a single concert on August 9. Leon Botstein conducts soloists, the Bard Festival Chorus, and the American Symphony Orchestra in all of these performances, to be given in Bard’s beautiful Sosnoff Theater. The two works, which both address religious extremism, are presented within the framework of “Wagner and His World,” the focus of the 20th annual Bard Music Festival. The artistic team for Les Huguenots combines the talent of American director Thaddeus Strassberger with that of cutting-edge Spanish designer, photographer, and filmmaker Eugenio Recuenco. The cast is headed by Erin Morley as Marguerite de Valois; Alexandra Deshorties as Valentine; Marie Lenormand as Urbain; Michael Spyres as Raoul; Andrew Schroeder as Nevers; Peter Volpe as Marcel; and John Marcus Bindel as Saint-Bris.

Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn were extremely popular and successful composers from prominent Jewish families. Although initially full of admiration for their work and achievement—for example, he described St. Paul as “a work which is witness to the highest bloom of art”, Wagner eventually turned against both composers. They became the prime targets of his anti-Semitism, as notoriously articulated in his 1850 article “Judaism in Music”. Meyerbeer, who had helped to get Wagner’s early opera Rienzi produced by the Dresden Court Opera (to great acclaim), came in for particularly harsh attacks.

Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, with a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Emile Deschamps based tangentially on historical events, addresses the persistent issue of religious intolerance and fanaticism. With a love story set among the tensions between Protestants and Catholics in 16th-century France, Les Huguenots culminates in the historic St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of August 23, 1572, when a Roman Catholic mob attacked French Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots) during the reign of King Charles IX (himself a Protestant). Many Huguenots were killed, and those who survived were further marginalized and radicalized.

Les Huguenots, first performed at the Paris Opéra in 1836, the same year that saw the premiere of St. Paul in Leipzig, would become one of the most frequently performed operas of that century, but later fell out of favor and began to be considered unproduceable. The opera was nearly forgotten until the mid-20th-century bel canto revival, when it was taken up again for singers like Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Giulietta Simionato, Franco Corelli, and Nicolai Gedda, among others, but in a shortened version often sung in Italian rather than the original French. Bard’s production (in French with English supertitles) restores almost all of the original music.

American designer-director Thaddeus Strassberger – the first recipient, in 2005, of Barcelona-based Opera-Europa’s European Opera-Directing Award – has worked in numerous American and European opera houses. As a Fulbright Fellow in 2001, he completed courses in theatrical design at La Scala in Milan, after graduating from New York’s Cooper Union. Last year he directed Arizona Opera’s La traviata with Alexandra Deshorties, and for Wolf Trap Opera he directed “an amusing and absorbing production of Ariadne auf Naxos … [taking] the opera’s original humor up a notch or two” [Opera News].

The most popular of Mendelssohn’s works during his lifetime, St. Paul – with texts taken from biblical sources and adapted by the composer with the assistance of the Protestant clergyman Julius Schubring – rewards its listeners mightily. Mendelssohn’s revivals of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Handel’s Israel in Egypt, and other such works are well known, and this Baroque heritage can be heard in St. Paul and in Mendelssohn’s later oratorio Elijah (1846). Both works became especially beloved in England and by German choirs in the United States. The first oratorio deals with the martyrdom of Saint Stephen; the conversion of Saul of Tarsus into Paul on the road to Damascus; Paul’s persecution by his former coreligionists; and other familiar early Christian history. It will be performed by the American Symphony Orchestra, with Leon Botstein conducting. The choruses at Bard will sing St. Paul in German (with English supertitles), with soloists Alexandra Coku, soprano; Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano; Scott Williamson, tenor; Paul Gay, baritone; and the Bard Festival Chorale, led by choral director James Bagwell.

Special support for Bard’s production of Les Huguenots is provided by Emily H. Fisher and John Alexander with additional funding from the Thaw Charitable Trust. The second performance, on Sunday afternoon, August 2, is to be preceded at 1 pm by a free Opera Talk by Leon Botstein. The single performance of St. Paul will also be preceded by a 1 pm free Opera Talk.

# # #


Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864):
Les Huguenots (1836)
Libretto: Eugène Scribe and Emile Deschamps

Marguerite de Valois: Erin Morley
Valentine: Alexandra Deshorties
Urbain: Marie Lenormand
Raoul de Nagis: Michael Spyres
Count de Nevers: Andrew Schroeder
Marcel: Peter Volpe
Count de Saint-Bris: John Marcus Bindel
American Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
July 31 & August 7 at 7 pm
August 2 & 5 at 3 pm
Tickets $25, 55, 75

Opera Talk with Leon Botstein
August 2 at 1 pm
Free and open to the public
Opera Talks are presented in memory of Sylvia Redlick Green

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847):
St. Paul (Paulus) (1836)

Alexandra Coku, soprano; Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano;
Scott Williamson, tenor; Paul Gay, baritone
Bard Festival Chorale; James Bagwell, choral director
American Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
Sunday, August 9 at 3 pm
Tickets $25, 40, 55

Opera Talk with Michael P. Steinberg
August 9 at 1 pm
Free and open to the public
Opera Talks are presented in memory of Sylvia Redlick Green


For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, phone the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit

# # #

Return to Press Room