Four Essential (and Local!) Summer Festivals

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Summer opera in New York is very much like New Yorkers in the warmer months—an alternation between in town and out for the weekend. Fortunately, with even some of the most prestigious performances that aren’t contained within the five boroughs, there are ways for the car-less to get around to catch four promising works this season.

Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts
Katonah, NY
Bel canto at Caramoor is a longstanding tradition that has given some major roles to young and eager stars—for proof positive, look no further than Angela Meade’s astonishing Norma last year. We were spoiled last summer for having both that Norma and a red-hot Donizetti rarity, Maria di Rohan (starring Jennifer Rowley, a last-minute replacement for Takesha Meshé Kizart). This year, those of us craving a full-concert bel canto work will have to content ourselves with “just” Rossini’s William Tell (July 9 and 15).

As always, the cast makes it drool-worthy. Caramoor and City Opera stalwart Daniel Mobbs sings the title role with Vanessa Cariddi playing his wife. As the central young lovers, rising soprano Julianna Di Giacomo sings Matilde and tenor Michael Spyres—who, though American-born is often too booked in Europe—tackles the brilliantly challenging role of Arnold.

Spyres will be familiar to summer festival-goers as Raoul in Bard SummerScape’s 2009 production of Les Huguenots and recent smaller appearances with the American Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Rossini is one of his strongest suits, however (he headlines a 2010 Naxos recording of the composer’s Otello) and it will be good to hear him in full, ardent force again. Like Bard, Caramoor has its own caravan service from Manhattan to Katonah, which operates on both performance days for a round-trip fare of $26.

Lincoln Center Festival
New York, NY

Lincoln Center gets two new operas this summer, both courtesy of some of the genre’s greatest innovators. Peter Brook, of La Tragédie de Carmen fame, returns to the plaza for another fresh twist on a repertoire favorite, in the U.S. premiere of A Magic Flute (July 5—17).

The aim here is to strip the excess of the story, focusing on the “heart” of Mozart’s music and Schikaneder’s libretto with a single piano and seven singers. If it holds up to the raves it garnered in Europe, this production may signal a sublime—and budget conscious—trend for opera companies in dire financial straits (hopefully someone from City Opera will be in attendance).

Later in the month, as part of the Royal Danish Opera and Orchestra’s larger-scope residency with the festival, a crafty team that includes composer Poul Ruders, director Kasper Holten and conductor Michael Schønwandt serve up another U.S. premiere in Selma Jezková (July 29). Ruders’s signature hypnotic flair, one that walks the line between lush melodies and atonal outbursts, ought to lend itself nicely to Dancer in the Dark, an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s 2000 film which spins a yarn about Czech immigrant Salma Jezková (originally played by Icelandic superstar Björk) and her shifting fate when she moves to the United States in 1964. For the benefit of all artists involved, perhaps it will be best for an off-the-reservation von Trier to stay far away from this production.

Bard SummerScape
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
After a visually stunning production of Franz Schreker’s criminally underperformed Der Ferne Klang last year, classical brainiac Leon Botstein goes forward 28 years for another Teutonic gem, Richard Strauss’s Die Liebe der Danae (July 29—August 7). Like the composer’s far more familiar Ariadne auf Naxos, the plot is a mix of comedy and drama under the veil of Greek mythology. The work was never officially premiered in the composer’s lifetime (thanks to Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels). Though respectably and posthumously premiered in 1952, the work has a spotty production history due to length, stage-effects and the prerequisite of a blue-chip cast and orchestra. “Evidently Strauss imagined Die Liebe der Danae as his swansong, an unconstrained last testament,” writes David Murray for The New Grove Dictionary of Opera.

Unsurprisingly, Botstein has already sunk his teeth into this score in a 2000 Avery Fisher Hall concert—preserved on the Telarc label—that starred Lauren Flanigan. A full-scale production, however, will be a horse of a different color. Stage director Kevin Newbury takes on the challenge with lauded architect Rafael Viñoly handling the sets. The talented soprano Meagan Miller stars. And though Bard College campus is a quick drive away from the city, the Richard B. Fischer Center for the Performing Arts offers round-trip bus service on July 29 and 31 for $25 (reservations required). Though many consider this to be second-rate Strauss, Murray notes that “a clever production, on a suitably outsize budget, may yet show it to be a better piece than is generally assumed.” Here’s hoping.

Mostly Mozart Festival
New York, NY
I’ve already enthused about Hungarian conductor (and now stage director) Iván Fischer’s Mostly Mozart debut in a semi-staged production of Don Giovanni (August 4 and 6) on this blog, and am still counting that among my hottest anticipations for this summer on the whole. However, added to the Mostly Mozart mix for this season is a concert performance of Handel’s Orlando (August 14) that comes complete with a polished Handelian orchestra in San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under conductor Micholas McGegan.

New York City Opera’s 2005 production of this work still remains a pleasant memory for many, but with showstopping arias like “Verdi allori,” “Fammi combattere” and “Vaghe pupile,” who needs a fully-staged production? Clint van der Linde makes his Mostly Mozart debut in the title role. Also heard with the festival for the first time are Diana Moore as Medoro, Yulia Van Doren as Dorinda and Wolf Matthias Friedrich as Zoroastro. Soprano Dominique Labelle makes a welcome return.

In town or not, what are you looking forward most to this summer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.