(ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.) – The production of Oresteia, composed by Igor Stravinsky’s compatriot Sergey Taneyev, at the Bard SummerScape festival, from July 26, 2013, through August 4, marks the first time this towering work will have been staged in its entirety outside Russia. Boasting a predominantly Russian cast, Bard’s new and original production comes courtesy of visionary director Thaddeus Strassberger, winner of the European Opera Directing Prize (2005) and creator of SummerScape’s previous hit treatments of Les Huguenots, The Distant Sound, and The King in Spite of Himself.
Oresteia’s five performances (July 26, 28 & 31; August 2 & 4) will feature the festival’s resident American Symphony Orchestra with music director Leon Botstein. This summer, Botstein also leads concert performances of three of Stravinsky’s own operatic works: Mavra (August 11), and a pairing of Oedipus Rex and Perséphone that will bring the 24th annual Bard Music Festival – and, indeed, the entire seven-week Bard SummerScape festival – to a thrilling close (August 18).
All four opera presentations will take place on Bard’s glorious Hudson Valley campus in the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.
Reviving important but neglected operas is one of the ways the Bard SummerScape festival has established itself as “a hotbed of intellectual and aesthetic adventure” (New York Times). This year’s exploration of “Stravinsky and His World” is no exception. As a child prodigy pianist and composer, Sergey Taneyev (1856–1915) was a protégé and champion of Tchaikovsky’s, serving as soloist in early performances of all the older composer’s piano concertos: the Moscow premiere of his First, the Russian premiere of his Second, and the posthumous premiere of his Third.
Taneyev was one of Russia’s most influential music theorists, teaching for nearly three decades at the Moscow Conservatory, where his students included Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Glière; Stravinsky later recalled how highly he valued Taneyev’s treatise on counterpoint, calling it “one of the best books of its kind.” Taneyev’s own music earned him the nickname of “Russian Brahms” from later Soviet critics. Yet in striving to synthesize counterpoint with folksong, he developed a distinct compositional voice that looked forward to Stravinsky himself.
Taneyev’s crowning achievement is undoubtedly his opera Oresteia (1887–94), which Stravinsky admired. Defying Russian operatic tradition, Taneyev turned to Greek antiquity, basing his libretto on Aeschylus’s trilogy of dramas – Agamemnon, Choephori, and Eumenides – that chronicles the calamities befalling the accursed House of Atreus: the return of Agamemnon from the Trojan War, his murder, and his son Orestes’s retribution on Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Rimsky-Korsakov considered Oresteia “striking in its wealth of beauty and expressiveness”; as Telegraph critic and Russian music expert Geoffrey Norris observes:
“It is highly original. … The music speaks with a strong individual voice; the classical subject made the work stand out at a time when Russian plots were de rigueur; and Taneyev shows genuine dramatic skill in bringing Aeschylus to the operatic stage.”
Yet since its 1895 premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre, the opera has only rarely been performed in its entirety, even in concert form. Indeed, Bard’s upcoming production represents the first time the complete opera will ever have been fully staged outside Russia.
Since the opening of the Fisher Center at Bard, Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra have been responsible for championing and restoring to the stage a growing number of important but long-neglected operas. All these presentations and their remarkable stagings have been warmly received by audiences and critics alike – not least, last season’s The King in Spite of Himself (“Le roi malgré lui,” 1887) by Emmanuel Chabrier, which featured this season’s artistic team of Botstein and Strassberger at the helm.
For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit Bard SummerScape.