Press Room

Botstein and ASO win praise for Meyerbeer’s Huguenots

Each summer at Bard
SummerScape, and each season at Lincoln Center, Leon Botstein and the American
Symphony Orchestra explore the forgotten byways of operatic repertoire with
often-revelatory results.  In
recent seasons, they have given concert performances of such rarities as Dame
Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers
which the New York Times called
“a bang up performance, one of the best [Botstein] has ever put on”; Édouard Lalo’s
Le roi d’Ys; and a double bill of
one-act operas by Italian modernist Luigi Dallapiccola that left a critic for ConcertoNet“astonished by what
[Botstein] brings to light – sometimes radiant light.”
Following a performance by Botstein and the ASO of Franz Shreker’s Der
ferne Klang
, veteran critic Peter G.
Davis wrote for Musical America, “Botstein’s
sympathy for the score was apparent everywhere…  The spirit and sweep of the music could scarcely have been
more fully captured

But perhaps no opera
performance by Botstein and the ASO has captured the imagination of the public
and critics as much as the fully staged production of Meyerbeer’s grand opera, Les Huguenots, a highlight of the 2009 Bard SummerScape festival, which is dedicated to “Wagner and His
World” – the theme of the 20th annual Bard Music Festival.  Producing this supposedly unstageable
opera (“Too tough for the singers!” and “Too long!” are but two long-held
criticisms) was clearly a risk for Botstein – despite once having been
enormously popular (it was the first to receive 1,000 performances at the Paris
Opera), Les Huguenots went on to
drop like a stone into obscurity, last being performed at the Met in 1915.  And yet, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “Bard’s gamble paid off…  [Botstein] balanced the grandeur and
the intimacy of the score and fused its varied musical styles into a grand,
architectural sweep.”

Other critics agreed.  A five-star review in the Financial
reported, “Les Huguenots in Bard’s staging is a thriller from beginning to
. … Leon Botstein made the right
preliminary decision by settling on an ample performing text … and, leading
the American Symphony Orchestra and an excellent chorus, holds it all together
with complete assurance.”  According
to the New York Post, “The large
cast of young American singers, although lacking superstar vocal glamour, rose
to the virtuoso vocal moments. … Les Huguenots may not be a masterpiece, but Botstein conducts
it with the fire and precision befitting one,”
while Musical America noted, “Let’s not forget Meyerbeer’s imaginative and
colorful orchestration, which Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra
showed to full advantage in their wholly persuasive performance.”  Praising
the “sweep, style, and energy” of the performance,” the New York Times concluded, “This production was a chance to enter
into the cultural mind-set of a rich era in opera history.  The time may be right for a Met revival.
 Until then, Mr. Botstein once
again deserves credit for an overdue rescue job

Opera lovers needn’t wait
until next summer to join Botstein and his intrepid orchestra on another voyage
of discovery (although there’s no harm in being excited about Bard SummerScape’s
plan to stage Schreker’s Der ferne Klang in summer 2010).  Instead,
they can plan to attend the first of six concerts to be given by the American
Symphony Orchestra as part of the 2009-10 Great Performers series at Lincoln
Center, where, on Wednesday, October 14, Botstein will lead the ASO in Vincent d’Indy’s Fervaal, Op. 40 (1893) at Avery Fisher Hall.  D’Indy’s great opera was inspired by
Wagner’s epics, but composers such as Debussy and Dukas thought Fervaal soared to even greater heights.

The concert performance of Fervaal sheds much-needed light on another gem from the
golden age of French opera, a period that Botstein and the ASO have mined with
superb results, including the 2008-09 season opener by Lalo (Le roi d’Ys), and, in previous seasons, Dukas’s Ariane et
and Chausson’s Le roi
.  Botstein recorded the latter two works to great acclaim with
the BBC Symphony Orchestra for Telarc, with the Chausson release selected by Gramophone for “Editor’s Choice” distinction.  “Botstein clearly loves this score,”
noted the magazine’s editor, “and he makes the most convincing case yet for

Complete details of the
American Symphony Orchestra’s 2009-10 season at Lincoln Center can be found at
the orchestra’s website:


Wednesday, October 14,
2009 at 8pm

American Symphony
Orchestra / Leon Botstein

Opera in concert: Vincent
d’Indy: Fervaal, Op. 40

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© 21C Media Group, August 2009

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