Press Room

Live, July 25–Aug 1: Bard SummerScape Presents First Fully Staged American Production of Ernest Chausson’s Only Opera, King Arthur (“Le roi Arthus”)

Norman Garrett as King Arthur (photo: Maria Baranova)

Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Committed since its inception to reviving important but neglected operas, Bard SummerScape has long proven itself “an indispensable part of the summer operatic landscape” (Musical America). This year’s immersion in “Nadia Boulanger and Her World presents the long overdue first fully staged American production of King Arthur (“Le roi Arthus”), the only opera by Boulanger’s compatriot and close contemporary Ernest Chausson. 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, anchored by the American Symphony Orchestra and Bard Festival Chorale under the leadership of festival founder and co-artistic director Leon Botstein. These will take place on July 25, 28 and 30 and August 1 before limited, in-person audiences in the striking Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center on Bard’s glorious Hudson Valley campus, from which the first two performances on July 25 and July 28 will also be livestreamed. As the Financial Times notes, “Some of the most important summer opera experiences in the U.S. are … at Bard SummerScape.” Click here to see a celebration of opera at Bard SummerScape.

Of an earlier generation than Nadia Boulanger, Ernest Chausson (1855–99) died in a cycling accident at just 44, and while his Poème for violin and orchestra remains a staple of the repertoire, the rest of his slender output is seldom programmed. Yet in leavening the Gallic sounds of his teachers César Franck and Jules Massenet with the influence of Wagner, Chausson played a pivotal part in the development of French late-Romanticism.

Set to his own libretto, Chausson’s sole completed opera, King Arthur (“Le roi Arthus,” 1886–95), follows Tristan und Isolde in drawing on British chivalric mythology and depicting a king caught in a tragic love triangle. Unlike Wagner’s, however, the French composer’s sympathies lie not with the adulterous lovers but with the betrayed monarch, whose longstanding code of honor, like his marriage, is now in jeopardy. Posthumously premiered in Brussels in 1903, King Arthur has enjoyed recent revivals in Edinburgh and Paris but not to date on the American stage. As The Guardian observes, “few significant operas have suffered neglect on the scale that has for so long been endured by Ernest Chausson’s Le roi Arthus.” This disregard is far from justified, however. With its rich lyricism, ravishing harmonies and otherworldly final chorus, the opera has won many advocates. King Arthur, notes the UK’s Independent, is “no mere Wagner clone, but a score packed with French sensibilité and a Symbolist, world-weary wisdom.” 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 will be directed by Louisa Proske, Founding Co-Artistic Director of Heartbeat Opera and designated Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director of Germany’s Halle Opera. 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 concert performance 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” (Paul Griffiths, New York Times).

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, will sing the title role opposite Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as Guinevere. The stellar cast also features tenor Matthew White, winner of the Deborah Voigt International Vocal Competition, who rounds out the trio as Lancelot. Versatile American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel, a recent winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions, sings Arthur’s confidante Merlin, with “vocally impressive, verbally elegant, and duly seductive” baritone Justin Austin (Opera News) as the treacherous Mordred. Tenor Andrew Bidlack brings his 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.

SummerScape tickets

All tickets go on sale on June 2. The Box Office can be reached by telephone at (845) 758-7900, on Mondays through Fridays at 11am–4pm EST, or by email at [email protected]. Tickets are also available 24/7 on Bard’s website at 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.

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: Brandon Cedel
Mordred: Justin Austin
Lyonnel: Andrew Bidlack
Allan: Wei Wu
The Laborer: Andres Acosta

SummerScape 2021: other key dates

July 8–10
Dance: I was waiting for the echo of a better day by Pam Tanowitz and Jessie Montgomery (world premiere)

July 15–17
Concerts on the Stage at Montgomery Place: Mx. Justin Vivian Bond

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

# # #

© 21C Media Group, May 2021

Return to Press Room