Press Room

Chabrier’s opera “The King in Spite of Himself” opens at Bard SummerScape, Friday, July 27

To enrich its immersion in the music of Belle Époque France, Bard SummerScape 2012 presents the first staged revival in the United States of The King in Spite of Himself (Le roi malgré lui) by Emmanuel Chabrier in its original 1887 version. The production, starring the “lyrical, expressive baritone” (New York Times) Liam Bonner, will receive a contemporary treatment from director Thaddeus Strassberger, whose previous SummerScape opera treatments rank among Bard’s undisputed success stories; as Opera News recently observed, “Few young stage directors in opera have demonstrated an intellectual drive to match Thaddeus Strassberger’s.” The opera’s five performances (July 27 & 29; Aug 1, 3, & 5) feature the festival’s resident American Symphony Orchestra with music director Leon Botstein, whose 2005 concert performance of the opéra-comique was “vibrant and assured” (New York Times). Botstein also leads an all-too-rare concert performance of Saint-Saëns’s grand opera Henry VIII on Sunday, August 19, drawing the 23rd annual Bard Music Festival’s exploration of “Saint-Saëns and His World” – and the entire seven weeks of Bard SummerScape – to a thrilling close.
As Botstein explains,
There was great interest in staging a comic opera at SummerScape – something we have not yet done. And the score for this Chabrier work is one of the unjustly neglected opera scores – truly great music that should be performed. In tandem with our concert performance of Saint-Saëns’s Henry VIII, it gives us a taste of the extraordinary variety and appeal of late 19th-century French opera.
It was eminent conductor-scholar Botstein, who, in concert with the American Symphony Orchestra, first returned to the original text of The King in Spite of Himself’s 1887 premiere, much to the gratified delight of the New York press. The New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini reported:
“Leon Botstein, that tireless champion of the unjustly overlooked, has come to the rescue of an even more neglected Chabrier comedy, Le roi malgré lui (‘The King in Spite of Himself’). … Mr. Botstein led…a vibrant and assured concert performance of this utterly enchanting work from 1887. … From the wondrous opening fanfare for brass and winds, with its wayward phrase structure and playful hints of medieval harmony, the score is glorious. … Mr. Botstein deserves the most credit for bringing us this inexplicably neglected opera.”
As the New York Sun confirmed, “Le roi’s time has come.”
Now Bard is in the happy position of restoring Chabrier’s masterpiece (in its original form) to the opera house in a new, fully-staged production that highlights Botstein’s tried and tested musical direction in a modern stage treatment by Thaddeus Strassberger. The director’s previous SummerScape productions both earned plaudits: Les Huguenots was pronounced “a triumph” (Wall Street Journal) and “a thriller from beginning to end” (Financial Times), while The Distant Sound was named one of New York magazine’s “Top Ten Classical Music Events of 2010.”
In addition to the fully staged opera, SummerScape 2012 also presents a rare concert performance of Saint-Saëns’s grand opera Henry VIII. Today, the composer’s operatic reputation rests solely on Samson and Delilah; even during his lifetime, he was better known for his orchestral and chamber works. Yet Reynaldo Hahn, writing for the composer’s centenary in 1935, argued that a performance of Henry VIII would convince the skeptical that Saint-Saëns was indeed a “man of the theater.” Such revivals, however, are few and far between, especially outside Europe; consequently, Bard’s full orchestral concert presentation should be prized all the more highly. The performance will showcase baritone Jason Howard (Henry VIII); soprano Ellie Dehn, recently described as “a revelation” by the Chicago Sun-Times (Catherine); and Juno Award-winning tenor John Tessier (Don Gomez).  They will be supported by the Bard Festival Chorale and James Bagwell, Music Director of the Collegiate Chorale and Bard Music Festival’s Director of Choruses since 2003, as well as by Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra. The performance on August 19 will follow a pre-concert talk by French music specialist Hugh Macdonald, General Editor of the Complete Edition of the Works of Hector Berlioz.
As Musical America remarks, “Bard’s annual opera has become an indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape because the choice of works is invariably inspired and their productions distinctively creative.”
Opera at Bard SummerScape 2012
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841–94)
The King in Spite of Himself (“Le roi malgré lui”, 1887)
Sung in French, with English supertitles
American Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger
Set Design by Kevin Knight
Costume Design by Mattie Ullrich
Henri: Liam Bonner
Nangis: Michele Angelini
Minka: Andriana Chuchman
Alexina: Nathalie Paulin
Fritelli: Frédéric Gonçalvés
Laski: Jeffrey Mattsey
Basile: Jason Ferrante
Sosnoff Theater
July 27* and August 3 at 7:00pm
July 29* and August 1 and 5* at 3:00pm
Tickets: $30, $60, $70, $90
Opera Talk with Leon Botstein
July 29 at 1:00pm
Free and open to the public
Special support for The King in Spite of Himself is provided by Emily H. Fisher and John Alexander.
The Opera Talk is presented in memory of Sylvia Redlick Green.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Henry VIII (1882)
Libretto: Léonce Détroyat and Armand Silvestre
American Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
Bard Festival Chorale
Conducted by James Bagwell, choral director
Henry VIII: Jason Howard
Catherine of Aragon: Ellie Dehn
Anne Boleyn: Jennifer Holloway
Don Gomez de Feria: John Tessier
Duke of Norfolk: Nathan Stark
Earl of Surrey: Jon-Michael Ball
Cardinal Campeggio: Jeffrey Tucker
Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury: Branch Fields
Sosnoff Theater
August 19 at 4:30pm*
Tickets: $30, $50, $60, $75
Pre-concert Talk with Hugh Macdonald
August 19 at 3:30pm
Free and open to the public
Entitled “Out of the Shadow of Samson and Delilah: Saint-Saëns’s Other Grand Opera,” this concert represents the final program of the 23rd annual Bard Music Festival.
* Round-trip transportation from Manhattan to Bard is available for this performance. The round-trip fare is $30 and reservations are required.
† Round-trip shuttle between the MetroNorth train station in Poughkeepsie and Bard is available for this performance. The round-trip fare is $20 and reservations are required. Shuttle service is available for all performances of the opera.
Highlights of the Bard SummerScape Festival 2012
Culture at the crossroads in Belle Époque France will be explored at the Bard SummerScape festival, which once again features a sumptuous tapestry of music, opera, theater, dance, film, and cabaret, keyed to the theme of the 23rd annual Bard Music Festival. Presented in the striking Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College’s bucolic Hudson River campus, the seven-week festival opened on July 6 with the first of three performances by France’s Compagnie Fêtes galantes, and closes on August 19 with a party in Bard’s beloved Spiegeltent, which returns for the full seven weeks.
This year’s Bard Music Festival explores “Saint-Saëns and His World,” and some of the great French composer’s most innovative compatriots provide other SummerScape highlights, including Emmanuel Chabrier’s opéra-comique The King in Spite of Himself in a first staged revival of the original 1887 version; Molière’s final comedy of manners, The Imaginary Invalid (1673); and a film festival, “France and the Colonial Imagination.” Together, Bard’s offerings present a vivid portrait of a dazzlingly creative and colorful era in European history: a Golden Age of promise and possibility that came to an end with the tragedy of World War I. A list of key performance dates follows below.
SummerScape 2012: other key performance dates by genre
Bard Music Festival, Weekend One: “Saint-Saëns and His World: Paris and the Culture of Cosmopolitanism” (August 10–12)
Bard Music Festival, Weekend Two: “Saint-Saëns and His World: Confronting Modernism” (August 17–19)
Round-trip coach transportation from Manhattan to Bard is available on August 10, 12, 17, and 19, for particular Sosnoff Theater performances. Round-trip shuttle transportation between the MetroNorth train station in Poughkeepsie and Bard is also available for some of the performances. A fare will be charged and reservations are required for coach and shuttle transportation. Check the website for schedules and details.
Molière: The Imaginary Invalid
Theater Two
July 13*, 14+, 19, 20, and 21† at 8:00pm
July 14, 15*, 18, 21, and 22* at 3:00pm
Tickets: $45
Compagnie Fêtes galantes
July 6* and 7† at 8:00pm
July 8* at 3:00pm
Sosnoff Theater
Tickets: $25, $40, $45, $55
* Round-trip transportation from Manhattan to Bard is available for this performance. The round-trip fare is $30 and reservations are required.
† Round-trip shuttle between the MetroNorth train station in Poughkeepsie and Bard is available for this performance. The round-trip fare is $20 and reservations are required.
+SummerScape Gala Benefit dinner and post-performance party.
“France and the Colonial Imagination”
Thursdays and Sundays, July 12 – August 12 at 2:00pm or 7:00pm
Ottaway Film Center
Tickets: $8
Cabaret, Family Fare, and SpiegelClub
Cabaret $25; Family Fare $15 ($5 for child under 18); SpiegelClub $5
Bard SummerScape Ticket Information
For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit

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