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Bard SummerScape’s 20th Anniversary Season – “Breaking Ground” – Opens Next Week with World Premiere of Illinois

(June 2023, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) — The curtain rises next week on Bard SummerScape’s 20th anniversary season, “Breaking Ground.” Presented in New York’s Hudson Valley by the Fisher Center at Bard, also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the seven-week annual arts festival opens next Friday with the world premiere of Illinois (June 23–July 2). A new SummerScape commission, Illinois is a full-length music-theater work based on the 2005 concept album of the same name by Grammy- and Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award- winner and frequent Stevens collaborator Justin Peck (Carousel on Broadway, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, New York City Ballet), with music and lyrics by Stevens and a story by Peck and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury (Fairview, Mary Seacole), Illinois is an ecstatic pageant of storytelling, theater, dance, and live music that takes audiences on a wild ride through the American heartland. Chartered coach transportation from New York City is available on June 25, June 29, and July 2; more information is available here. There will also be a pre-performance, opening-night members’ toast (June 23), an exclusive opening-night after-party in Bard’s Spiegeltent with the cast and creative team (June 23), a pre-performance talk with Justin Peck (June 25), and a post-performance conversation with the performers (June 30).

SummerScape’s next mainstage event is the first major American production of Camille Saint-Saëns’s grand opera Henri VIII, featuring bass-baritone Alfred Walker and the American Symphony Orchestra in an original new staging by visionary French director Jean-Romain Vesperini (July 21–30).

Finally, over the last two weekends of SummerScape, the 33rd Bard Music Festival presents “Vaughan Williams and His World”: eleven themed concerts, plus panel discussions and special events, providing an in-depth re-examination of the great but frequently misunderstood British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (Aug 4–6; Aug 10–13).

Chartered coach transportation from New York City is available for Henri VIII (July 23 & 30) and the final program of the Bard Music Festival (Aug 13); more information is available here. Henri VIII and six concerts will also stream live to home audiences worldwide on Upstreaming, the Fisher Center’s virtual stage.

As in previous seasons, SummerScape’s one-of-a-kind Belgian Spiegeltent (June 22–Aug 12) provides a sumptuous environment for cutting-edge live music and dancing on Fridays, Saturdays, and some Sundays throughout the festival, with a new “Bluegrass on Hudson” series on Thursdays. Highlights of the Spiegeltent season include John Cameron Mitchell and Amber Martin, Nona Hendryx’s tribute to Betty Davis, Ari Shapiro with Matteo Lane, Alicia Hall Moran, Erin Markey, Jasmine Rice LaBeija, Britton & the Sting, Nicholas Galanin and Ya Tseen, Susanne Bartsch, Martha Redbone, The Hot Sardines, Lola Kirke, and more. Members of the local community are also invited to a free, day-long 20th anniversary Community Celebration with a special performance from Latin Grammy-winning band Flor de Toloache at the Fisher Center (July 15).

Tickets for mainstage events start at $25. For complete information regarding tickets, series discounts, and more, visit or call Bard’s box office at (845) 758-7900.

What critics are saying about Bard SummerScape…

“Seven weeks of cultural delight.” (International Herald Tribune)
“A track record of reliable transcendence.” (New York Times)
“One of the major upstate festivals.” (New Yorker)
“A highbrow hotbed of culture.” (Huffington Post)
“The smartest mix of events within driving distance of New York.” (Bloomberg News)
“Leon Botstein’s Bard SummerScape and Bard Music Festival always unearth piles of buried treasure.” (New Yorker)
“One of the best lineups of the summer for fans of any arts discipline.” (New York Sun)
“One of the great artistic treasure chests of the tri-state area and the country.” (GALO magazine)
“One of the New York area’s great seasonal escapes.” (American Record Guide)
“A haven for important operas.” (New York Times)
“An indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape.” (Musical America)
“Essential summertime fare for the serious American opera-goer” (Financial Times, UK)
“Botstein and Bard SummerScape show courage, foresight and great imagination, honoring operas that larger institutions are content to ignore.” (Time Out New York)
“A spectacular venue for innovative fare.” (Travel and Leisure magazine)
“It’s hard not to find something to like, and it’s even harder to beat the setting.” (New York Post)
“The experience of entering the Fisher Center and encountering something totally new is unforgettable and enriching.” (Time Out New York)

…and about the Bard Music Festival

“The summer’s most stimulating music festival.” (Los Angeles Times)
“It has long been one of the most intellectually stimulating of all American summer festivals and frequently is one of the most musically satisfying.” (Wall Street Journal)
“Part boot camp for the brain, part spa for the spirit.” (New York Times)
“A highlight of the musical year.” (Wall Street Journal)
“The most intellectually ambitious of America’s summer music festivals.” (Times Literary Supplement, London)
“One of the ‘Ten Can’t-Miss Classical Music Festivals.’” (NPR Music)
“A two-weekend musicological intensive doubling as a sumptuous smorgasbord of concerts.” (New York Times)
“An always intrepid New York event.” (Time Out New York)
“One of New York’s premier summer destinations for adventurous music lovers.” (New York Times)

SummerScape 2023: key dates
June 22–Aug 12
Spiegeltent: live music and dancing
June 23–July 2
Music-theater: Illinois by Justin Peck, Sufjan Stevens and Jackie Sibblies Drury
(world premiere of new SummerScape commission)
July 15
20th Anniversary Community Celebration (free)
July 21–30
Opera: Saint-Saëns’s Henri VIII (new production)
Aug 4–6
Bard Music Festival: Vaughan Williams and His World
Weekend One: Victorians, Edwardians, and Moderns
Aug 10–13
Bard Music Festival: Vaughan Williams and His World
Weekend Two: A New Elizabethan Age?
All programs subject to change

The Fisher Center is generously supported by Jeanne Donovan Fisher, the Martin and Toni Sosnoff Foundation, the Advisory Boards of the Fisher Center at Bard and Bard Music Festival, Fisher Center and Bard Music Festival members, the Ettinger Foundation, the Thendara Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature. Fisher Center LAB has received funding from members of the Live Arts Bard Creative Council, the Lucille Lortel Foundation, and the Fisher Center’s Artistic Innovation Fund, with lead support from Rebecca Gold and S. Asher Gelman ’06 through the March Forth Foundation.

Illinois is a co-commission of the Fisher Center, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and the Perelman Performing Arts, Southbank Center, and TO Live, and has been made possible with a commissioning grant from The O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation, and residency support from Project Springboard: Developing Dance Musicals, and The Ted & Mary Jo Shen Charitable Gift Fund. The production is generously supported by Emily Blavatnik and the Blavatnik Family Foundation. Additional funding has been received from the Fisher Center’s Artistic Innovation Fund, with lead support from Rebecca Gold and S. Asher Gelman ‘06 through the March Forth Foundation.

Henri VIII has received support from Villa Albertine.

The 2023 Bard Music Festival has received support from the Vaughan Williams Foundation.

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© 21C Media Group, June 2023

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