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Tony Award Nominee Daniel Fish Directs Acquanetta, A Visual and Musical Tour-de-Force by Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman, at Bard SummerScape (July 11–21)

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY: The 2019 Bard SummerScape festival takes a contemporary look at Hollywood’s Golden Age in Acquanetta, a visual and musical tour-de-force inspired by the eponymous B-movie star with a mysterious past. Combining theater, opera, and film in a haunting meditation on identity, transformation, stereotypes, and typecasting from composer and Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon and his longtime collaborator, librettist Deborah Artman, Acquanetta originally premiered at the PROTOTYPE Festival, where it was a New York Times and New York magazine “Critics’ Pick” and one of the New York Classical Review’s “Top Ten Performances of 2018.” It comes to Bard in the same “unmissable, … sublime” production (Time Out New York) by Daniel Fish, whose previous SummerScape staging (a revelatory new take on Oklahoma!) is currently “the coolest new show on Broadway” (New York Times), scoring the visionary director a 2019 Tony nomination. Starring Rebecca L. Hargrove, Amelia Watkins, Eliza Bagg, Christopher Burchett, and Timur, accompanied by members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Bang on a Can Opera ensemble under the baton of conductor David Bloom, Acquanetta will be presented in ten performances between July 11 and July 21 in the LUMA Theater of the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, on Bard’s idyllic Hudson Valley campus. Click here to see the video trailer for Acquanetta.

To create their work, Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman drew inspiration from the obituary of Acquanetta (1921–2004), or Mildred Davenport, as she was originally named. Known for her exotic beauty, Acquanetta headlined such 1940s horror films as Captive Wild Woman, Jungle Woman, The Sword of Monte Cristo, and Tarzan and the Leopard Woman. Though thought to be of Arapaho heritage, she was billed as the “Venezuelan Volcano” and gave a different version of her past in every interview.

The catalyst for Acquanetta is a scene from the 1943 cult classic Captive Wild Woman, in which a mad doctor conducts a doomed experiment to create a woman by transplanting a human female’s brain and glands into a gorilla. Artman explains:

“We decided to make the opera based on the laboratory scene and use it as a metaphor for layers of identity. Acquanetta’s story is a quintessential story about how women often have to conceal their truth and hide in plain sight, reinventing themselves to fit an accepted narrative. It has even more resonance now in the current climate when the role of women in power structures is being reevaluated and scrutinized. I’m thrilled that Bard SummerScape is bringing our opera to my home in the Hudson Valley.”

In Artman’s libretto, the characters function both as actors playing roles and as the parts they are playing, revealing their inner longings as they wrestle with identity, stereotypes, and typecasting. Gordon says:

“Deborah very cleverly looked into the background and the personal stories of the people in that scene. Every one of the characters in that scene has a story to tell that’s multi-dimensional.”

About her collaborators’ contributions to the project, Artman adds:

“Daniel Fish, our director, has cracked the opera open and elevated it to an electrifying opera-film-theater hybrid never before seen in the opera community. It’s immensely fun with Michael Gordon’s dance-in-your-seat music, eerie sounds, and beautiful, layered voices.”

When Acquanetta premiered at Brooklyn’s PROTOTYPE Festival last year, it was hailed as “a major addition to this composer’s canon” (New York Times). New York Classical Review elaborated:

“Gordon, who has put together one of the greatest bodies of work in contemporary classical music while somehow staying just off the radar, has created something consequential again with Acquanetta. Seeing it is fun in the way of great movies – every moment is vivid and compelling, and the sheer entertainment (which is spectacular) leaves a plangent, lasting aftertaste of emotional mystery and power. … A historic milestone.”

As for Fish’s production, the New York Times observed: “Some of the ways his staging builds and releases tension are too good to spoil.” “The cathartic finale sent me staggering out of the theater,” agreed the New York Observer. As the Theatre Times put it, “Acquanetta, as entertaining and funny as it is, will have you thinking about it for days.”

About Gordon, Artman, Fish, and the cast and creative team

Composer Michael Gordon has produced a strikingly diverse body of work over the past three decades, accruing honors from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and many more. Merging subtle rhythmic invention with incredible power, his music combines “the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism” (New York Times).

A longtime creative partner of Gordon and his fellow Bang on a Can composers David Lang and Julia Wolfe, librettist Deborah Artman specializes in exploring new forms and interdisciplinary collaborations. Her work has appeared in national journals, such as American Short Fiction and the New York Times Magazine, and been recognized with fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the MacDowell Colony.

To direct Acquanetta, Gordon and Artman turned to Daniel Fish, winner of the 2017 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for Theatre. Seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company, American Repertory Theater, BAM Next Wave festival, L.A Opera, San Francisco Opera, and other venues and festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe, his work explores the intersection of experimental theater, opera, film, and installation art. Acquanetta marks his first return to Bard since SummerScape 2015, when he debuted his production of Oklahoma!. Now the Tony-nominated toast of Broadway, it recently enjoyed a sold-out run at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, where it was chosen as one of the New York Times’s “Best Theater of 2018” and as No. 1 on Time magazine’s list of “The 10 Best Plays and Musicals of 2018.”

Heading up Bard’s Acquanetta cast is National Young Arts Foundation Award-winner Rebecca L. Hargrove, making her role and festival debuts as the title character. Her past credits include Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and New York City Opera, as well as Netflix’s House of Cards, HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Amelia Watkins, a soprano blessed with a “rich, glowing lyric sound destined for the heights” (Opera News), reprises the role of the Brainy Woman, which she originated at PROTOTYPE, “excel[ling] in bringing across the character’s underlying existential dread” (New York Times). Eliza Bagg, “a sought-after vocalist on the so-called indie classical scene” (WNYC), revisits her portrayal of the Ape, in which she previously “maintain[ed] a commanding vocal presence throughout” (Theatre Times). Christopher Burchett lends his “warm and malleable baritone, … as well as convincing physicality” (Boston Classical Review) to the visionary Director, and Timur – “a wild, riveting performer who wields his powerful voice with heavy metal abandon” (Los Angeles Times) – reprises his depiction of the mad Doctor.

Acquanetta will be conducted by David Bloom, an alumnus of Bard College and its Graduate Conducting Program. Bloom serves as co-artistic director and conductor of Contemporaneous, and has conducted more than 200 world premieres for such presenters as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Bang on a Can. Active as a conductor of new opera, he has led productions for PROTOTYPE Festival, Opera Omaha, Beth Morrison Projects, American Opera Projects, and Experiments in Opera. Together with members of the Grammy-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street, he will be joined by musicians from the Bang on a Can Opera ensemble, which has been called “the country’s most important vehicle for contemporary music” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Acquanetta is produced by Beth Morrison Projects, with scenic design by Lucille Lortel Award-nominee Amy Rubin; video design by Joshua Higgason, whose credits include BAM, La Scala, and the Salzburg Festival; costumes by Terese Wadden, who previously collaborated with Fish on Oklahoma!; lighting by Barbara Samuels, a current nominee for this year’s Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk Awards; sound by Garth MacAleavey, who has worked with artists ranging from Steve Reich and the Kronos Quartet to Paul Simon and Erykah Badu; and dramaturgy by Michael R. Jackson, whose honors include a 2017 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award.

The chamber version of Acquanetta was commissioned and produced by Beth Morrison Projects with lead commissioning support by Linda & Stuart Nelson and additional support from Chris Ahearn & Marla Mayer, Miles & Joni Benickes, Stephen Block, Sarah Brown, Emilie Corey, Jeanne Donovan Fisher, Marian Godfrey, Joel Graber, Raulee Marcus, James Marlas & Marie Nugent-Head Marlas, Jill Matichak, Charles & Jane Morrison, and Anna Rabinowitz.

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SummerScape’s theatrical track record is a stellar one. Offering a “stranger, sexier, more melancholic version of Peter Pan” (New York Times), last season’s original production of Leonard Bernstein’s rarely-performed musical theater gem was chosen as one of WQXR’s most memorable concerts of 2018 and a highlight of the Bernstein centennial. As New York Arts declares: “Bard summer drama has been consistently of the highest order.”

Click here to download high-resolution photos of Acquanetta.


Theater at Bard SummerScape 2019

Music by Michael Gordon
Libretto by Deborah Artman
Directed by Daniel Fish
Conducted by David Bloom
Produced by Beth Morrison Projects 

Acquanetta: Rebecca L. Hargrove
Brainy Woman: Amelia Watkins
Ape: Eliza Bagg
Director: Christopher Burchett
Doctor: Timur 

Scenic design by Amy Rubin
Video design by Joshua Higgason
Costume design by Terese Wadden
Lighting design by Barbara Samuels
Sound design by Garth MacAleavey
Dramaturgy by Michael R. Jackson

Members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street
Members of Bang on a Can Opera ensemble

Opening Night Reception for Members: Friday, July 12
Pre-Performance Conversation: Sunday, July 14 at 1pm
Post-Performance Conversation: Wednesday, July 17

Thursday, July 11 at 8pm
Friday, July 12 at 8pm*
Saturday, July 13 at 2pm
Sunday, July 14 at 2pm*
Wednesday, July 17 at 2pm
Thursday, July 18 at 8pm
Friday, July 19 at 8pm
Saturday, July 20 at 2pm
Saturday, July 20 at 8pm
Sunday, July 21 at 2pm

Tickets: $25 to $75
LUMA Theater, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts


SummerScape 2019: other key performance dates by genre

Bard Music Festival, Weekend One: Korngold and Vienna (August 9–11)
Bard Music Festival, Weekend Two: Korngold in America (August 16–18)

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence: Grace and Mercy
Original music for Mercy written and performed by Meshell Ndegeocello
Music from Grace performed live by Peven Everett and others
World Premiere/SummerScape commission
Sosnoff Theater
July 5* & 6 at 8pm
July 7* at 2pm
Tickets: $25 to $95

Opening Night Reception for Members: Thursday, July 5
Post-Performance Conversation: Friday, July 6
Pre-Performance Conversation: Sunday, July 7 at 1pm

“Korngold and the Poetry of Cinema”
Ottaway Film Center
July 25: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Max Reinhardt & William Dieterle, 1935, USA)
July 28: Captain Blood (Michael Curtiz, 1935, USA)
August 1 at 7pm: The Ancient Law (E.A. Dupont, 1923, Germany)
August 4 at 7pm: Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls, 1948)
August 8 at 7pm: Treasures of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948, USA)
August 11 at 7pm: The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956, USA)
August 15 at 7pm: The Sea Wolf (Michael Curtiz, 1941, USA); King’s Row (Sam Wood, 1942, USA)
August 18 at 7pm: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968, USA)
Tickets: $10

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Miracle of Heliane (“Das Wunder der Heliane”)
American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein
Directed by Christian Räth
Sosnoff Theater
July 26* at 7:30pm
July 28* & 31; August 4* at 2pm
August 2* at 4pm
Tickets: $25 to $125

Opening Night Reception for Members Friday, July 26
Opera Talk with Leon Botstein Sunday, July 28 at noon

June 29–August 17
Live Music, Cabaret, Festival Dining, and After Hours salon
Dates, times, and ticket prices vary

* The Bard SummerScape coach from Manhattan is available for these performances.

Bard SummerScape ticket information

Tickets for all Bard SummerScape events are now on sale. For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit

SummerScape opera, theater, and dance performances and most Bard Music Festival programs are held in the Sosnoff Theater or LUMA Theater in Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry and celebrated since its opening as a major architectural landmark in the region. Some chamber programs and other BMF events are in Olin Auditorium, and the Spiegeltent has its own schedule of events, in addition to serving as a restaurant, café, and bar before and after performances. Film Series screenings are at the Jim Ottaway Jr. Film Center in the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Center.

New York City Round-Trip Coach Transportation:
To make a reservation on the round-trip SummerScape coach provided exclusively to ticket holders for specific performances indicated by * in the listings above, call the box office at 845-758-7900 or select this option when purchasing tickets. The round-trip fare is $40 and reservations are required. The coach departs from behind Lincoln Center, on Amsterdam Avenue between 64th and 65th Streets. Find additional details at:

Full Schedule:
For a complete schedule of SummerScape and Bard Music Festival events (subject to change), follow the links given below. Updates are posted at the festival web site

Fisher Center members receive priority access to the best seats in advance, and those who join the Center’s email list receive advance booking opportunities as well as regular news and updates.

Bard SummerScape:

Bard Music Festival:

Tickets and Subscriptions:; or by phone at 845-758-7900. Tickets to all mainstage events start at $25.

Subscription Offers:
Create Your Own Series: Save 25% and enjoy maximum flexibility, by choosing four or more events.
SummerScape Mainstage Package: Save 30% and guarantee seats for dance, theater, and opera events.
Dining Packages:
Out-of-Town Package: Save $30 on a mainstage ticket, roundtrip bus from New York City, and three-course meal.
Night Out Package: Save $20 on a mainstage ticket (selected performances only) and three-course meal.

Updates: Bard’s “e-subscribers” get all the news in regular updates. Click here to sign up, or send an e-mail to [email protected].

All programs are subject to change.

The 2019 SummerScape season is made possible in part through the generous support of Jeanne Donovan Fisher, the Martin and Toni Sosnoff Foundation, the Board of The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, the Board of the Bard Music Festival, and Fisher Center 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 Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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© 21C Media Group, May 2019

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