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Les Huguenots Opens Friday, July 31 at Bard SummerScape

“Every single person in this production is
making a ‘role debut,’ from myself to the principals’ roles, to the chorus, the
conductor, orchestra, and crew. 
It’s incredibly liberating to approach it fresh, but it’s also daunting
in the sheer number of decisions that must be made each day!”

– Thaddeus Strassberger

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – With a distinguished history of
presenting important but rarely-performed works in remarkable productions, Bard
SummerScape is producing one of music history’s most challenging operas:
Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 1836 masterpiece, Les
, opening on
July 31 for four performances. 
Leon Botstein conducts soloists, the Bard Festival Chorus, and the
American Symphony Orchestra in Bard’s beautiful Sosnoff Theater.  The grandly scaled opera – to be staged
almost entirely intact – addresses religious extremism in an enhanced
historical setting, and is produced within the framework of “Wagner
and His World
,” which is the focus of the
20th annual Bard Music Festival.  The artistic team for Les Huguenots combines the talents of American
director Thaddeus Strassberger
with those of Spanish designer, photographer, and filmmaker Eugenio
, with Mattie Ullrich’s costumes and Aaron Black’s lighting. 
The cast features 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.

Bard SummerScape got off to a successful start with the
opening night of Dance – a restoration
of the 1979 collaboration between choreographer Lucinda Childs, filmmaker Sol
LeWitt, and composer Philip Glass. 
It received winning notices, including that by Gia Kourlas in the
New York Times
.  Kourlas enthusiastically extends credit for the superlative
production beyond these three creators, with a nod to the “unofficial fourth
collaborator” of the project: Frank Gehry, the architect of Bard’s Fisher
Center for the Performing Arts, whose design of the center’s Sosnoff Theater
“provides a scintillating frame.”

Since its inception in 2003, with the opening of its new
Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard SummerScape has presented a
remarkable array of seldom-produced operas: Blitzstein’s Regina; Janácek’s Osud; Shostakovich’s The Nose;
Schumann’s Genoveva;
Szymanowski’s King Roger; and
Zemlinsky’s Florentine Tragedy
and The Dwarf.

This year’s director, Thaddeus Strassberger – who confesses
having a lifelong interest in opera since his first encounter with it as a
small child – found time to answer some questions (below) about the challenges
of staging Les Huguenots, considered by many to be all but unproduceable.

A few
questions for Thaddeus Strassberger about staging Meyerbeer’s Les
Huguenots at Bard

Q: What are some of the
things about your production of Meyerbeer’s
Les Huguenots (including your collaboration with
Eugenio Recuenco and the rest of your team) that you feel will surprise the

TS: The piece works on so many levels – on one hand, it’s
undeniably a singers’ showcase. 
It’s nicknamed the “Night of the Seven Stars” for a good reason!  But the dramatic arc of the opera is
carefully thought out by Meyerbeer as well.  First, he pulls you in with a boisterous choral tableau to
set the mood, then he gives you an intimate ballad for the tenor – you can’t
imagine a better contrast.  Then he
intersperses recitative (dialog
set to music) to make sure we keep up with the unfolding drama.  It’s strangely seductive in that way –
one leading character hardly sings at all until even the Fourth Act, so it
leads to a thrilling climax because the tension is so built up!  We’ve worked to structure the set,
costumes, and staging to follow this contour as well.  New elements and surprises keep unfolding, so the careful
listener and viewer are rewarded along the way with new discoveries.

Q: If Huguenots is the largest-scale opera you’ve
produced to date, what other operas have helped you deal with the grandiosity
of this project?

TS: I think every production you’ve created in the past
adds to your experience, and you can’t help but be influenced by them.  I’ve directed Aida and Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, both with choruses about this size and with
similarly “weighty” material.  Parsifal and Peter Grimes were good training as well for dealing with choruses as a critical
“main character” in the drama.  But
Les Huguenots isn’t always “huge”
– there are many intimate scenes with just one or two singers that pull you
right in as well.  What’s made this
production unique is that every single idea had to be invented from scratch –
with more standard repertory, there’s always some sort of dialog with
tradition, performance practice, and audience expectations.  Every single person in this production
is making a “role debut,” from myself to the principals’ roles, to the chorus,
the conductor, orchestra, and crew. 
It’s incredibly liberating to approach it fresh, but it’s also daunting
in the sheer number of decisions that must be made each day!

Q: You are a designer
as well as a director; can you explain how that helps you work with a
designer/photographer like Eugenio Recuenco (who’s also very involved in
mise-en-scène) without “getting in his way”?

TS: I’ve never really seen a distinction in many ways
between the work of a designer and director, so I think working with Eugenio
has been quite natural.  His
background is in creating static images that have a clear and concise story
contained in single frame, and my productions are often quite kinetic.  In this case, he kept me aware of the
weight and scale of the piece as we went along, and kept me on my toes.

Similarly with costume
designer Mattie Ullrich, a long-time collaborator of mine, our interaction was
energized by the presence of a new voice. 
The shorthand that comes from our close collaboration needs to be
challenged from time to time as well. 
Lighting of course plays a key role in both opera and photography, and
Aaron Black has been really instrumental in harmonizing the various aesthetics
into a dramatic framework that is both beautiful and narrative.  In other words, I think we all “get in
each others’ way” but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Opera at Bard SummerScape 2009

Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864)

Les Huguenots (1836)

Libretto: Eugène Scribe and
Emile Deschamps

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

Bard SummerScape Ticket Information

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

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© 21C Media Group, July 2009

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