July 15, 2021

Sasha Cooke as Queen Guinevere; Norman Garrett as King Arthur; Matthew White as Lancelot (photos: Maria Baranova)

Some of the most important summer opera experiences in the U.S. are … at Bard SummerScape.”
Financial Times

Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Opening Sunday, July 25, Ernest Chausson’s only opera, King Arthur (“Le roi Arthus”), receives its long overdue first fully staged American production at Bard SummerScape. Featuring charismatic baritone Norman Garrett and celebrated mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke in an original staging by Princess Grace Award-winner Louisa Proske, King Arthur will run for four performances, on July 25, 28 and 30 and August 1, anchored by the American Symphony Orchestra and Bard Festival Chorale under the leadership of festival founder and co-artistic director Leon Botstein. In light of recent New York State guidance, these performances will now take place before full-capacity audiences in the striking Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center on Bard’s glorious Hudson Valley campus. The July 25 performance will also be livestreamed, with an encore virtual presentation on July 28. This follows SummerScape’s season-opening world premiere production of I was waiting for the echo of a better day by Pam Tanowitz and Jessie Montgomery, which prompted the New York Times to marvel: “I can think of few dance experiences as thrilling as this one since the pandemic began.

A compatriot and close contemporary of Nadia Boulanger, subject of this year’s Bard Music Festival, Ernest Chausson (1855–99) played a pivotal part in the development of French late-Romanticism. Set to his own libretto, his sole completed opera, King Arthur (“Le roi Arthus,” composed 1886–95), draws on British chivalric mythology, depicting a king whose marriage and longstanding code of honor both stand in jeopardy. With its rich lyricism, ravishing harmonies and otherworldly final chorus, King Arthur offers “a score packed with French sensibilité and a Symbolist, world-weary wisdom” (Independent, UK). As Gramophone affirms: “Passion is often white-hot; the orchestration is opulent; and there are … passages of sheer beauty.”

Marking the opera’s long overdue first fully staged American presentation, Bard’s new production stars baritone Norman Garrett, who made his Metropolitan Opera debut in last season’s Porgy and Bess after winning top prizes in more than a dozen international vocal competitions. About his upcoming title role debut, Garrett reflects:

“I can think of dozens of famous Black sopranos, mezzos, tenors and basses, but we Black baritones rarely get to take center stage. That’s why taking on this role of Arthur is so important to me. Taking this part comes with a strong sense of responsibility to represent the Black community in the arts.”

The baritone continues:

King Arthur will be very easy to listen to with fresh ears. … The dense score is full of soaring interludes that sound as though they belong in some epic blockbuster movie. That’s what pulled me into the world of Chausson. Not to mention the role of Arthur, which is one of the most expressive roles in the canon. The colors of the orchestra, the text setting, the through-composition – and no musical strophe or text repetition. Everything is so deliberate. Let’s put it this way: At this point in my career, it’s my favorite role I’ve learned so far.

To complete the tragic love triangle, Garrett will be joined by Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as Guinevere and the Lancelot of tenor Matthew White, winner of the Deborah Voigt International Vocal Competition. Veteran American baritone Troy Cook brings his technical polish and intensely focused stage presence to the complex role of Arthur’s confidante Merlin, with “vocally impressive, verbally elegant, and duly seductive” baritone Justin Austin (Opera News) as the treacherous Mordred. Tenor Andrew Bidlack lends impressive range to the role of Lyonnel, superb Chinese bass Wei Wu sings Allan and young tenor Andres Acosta rounds out the cast as The Laborer.

Bard’s director is Louisa Proske, Co-Founder and Resident Director of Heartbeat Opera and designated Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director of Germany’s Halle Opera. In her hands, Bard’s original treatment features scenes from King Arthur’s backstory, staged during the opera’s orchestral interludes, and brings the chorus on stage for its climactic final scene. She explains:

“Chausson’s opera goes to the very heart of why we need stories, and why we tell them to each other over and over again. The final chorus, on stage rather than invisible in my production, allows us to experience, in a way that no other medium but live theater could deliver, how Arthur the man turns into legend, how he is absorbed into the body of collective memory and transmogrifies into myth. I hope that King Arthur will affirm our longing for togetherness and culture after this dreadful period of enforced absence.”

The production will be conducted by Leon Botstein, who previously led the opera both on a Telarc recording with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and in a 2001 opera-in-concert with the American Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center. That performance was hailed as “one of the best Leon Botstein and the American Symphony have given together,” showing Chausson’s score to be “sumptuous, majestic, brilliant in its fanfare moments and often powerful” (New York Times).

SummerScape tickets
All tickets are now on sale. The Box Office can be reached by telephone at (845) 758-7900, on Tuesday and Wednesday 10am-5pm, Thursday and Friday 10am-8:30pm, Saturday 12-8:30 pm, and Sunday 12-8pm EST (on performance days only, or by email at [email protected]. Tickets are also available 24/7 on Bard’s website at fishercenter.bard.edu. Please note that press tickets are limited.

The 2021 SummerScape season is made possible in part through the generous support of Jeanne Donovan Fisher, the Martin and Toni Sosnoff Foundation, the Advisory Boards of the Fisher Center at Bard and Bard Music Festival, and Fisher Center and Bard Music Festival members, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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Opera at SummerScape 2021
King Arthur (“Le roi Arthus,” 1886–95)
Music and libretto: Ernest Chausson (1855–99)
Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Center
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Sunday, July 25 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, July 28 at 2pm
Friday, July 30 at 4pm
Sunday, August 1 at 2pm

American Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Leon Botstein
Directed by Louisa Proske
Set designer: Matt Saunders
Lighting designer: Scott Zielinski
Costume designer: Kaye Voyce
Movement director: Zoe Scofield
Fight director: Thomas Schall

Arthur: Norman Garrett
Guinevere: Sasha Cooke
Lancelot: Matthew White
Merlin: Troy Cook
Mordred: Justin Austin
Lyonnel: Andrew Bidlack
Allan: Wei Wu
The Laborer: Andres Acosta

Click here to learn about the current health and safety protocols for indoor performances at Bard SummerScape.

SummerScape 2021: other remaining key dates
July 23 & 24 Concerts on the Stage at Montgomery Place: Black Roots Summer, Weekend One
July 29–31 Concerts on the Stage at Montgomery Place: Black Roots Summer, Weekend Two
August 5–7 Concerts on the Stage at Montgomery Place: Most Happy in Concert
August 6–8 Bard Music Festival, Weekend One: Music in Paris
August 12–15 Bard Music Festival, Weekend Two: The 20th-Century Legacy of Nadia Boulanger

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© 21C Media Group, July 2021