ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — It took simply two phrases over the loudspeakers for the viewers on the Fisher Middle for the Performing Arts at Bard School on Sunday night to interrupt into vigorous applause: “Welcome again.”
Welcome again, certainly, to Ernest Chausson’s seldom heard opera “Le Roi Arthus,” being offered as a part of Bard’s SummerScape pageant. And welcome again to many within the viewers, for whom being in a theater for reside opera with a full orchestra and refrain, after such a protracted deprivation, was actually one thing to cheer.
“Le Roi Arthus,” primarily based on the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Spherical Desk, proved a robust work for this fraught, polarized second in American life. It’s the story of an idealistic ruler who fails to deliver in regards to the period of enlightenment he strives for, however whose ideas will endure, as an angelic refrain assures him on the finish of an typically ravishing rating. The manufacturing is the newest mission within the conductor Leon Botstein’s lengthy marketing campaign to interrupt classical music from its fixation on repertory staples and name consideration to uncared for works.
This exceptional opera, first carried out in Brussels in 1903, 4 years after its composer’s demise in a biking accident at 44, is particularly deserving. Chausson, who additionally wrote the libretto, labored on it for nearly a decade — not as a result of he was caught, however as a result of he needed to get it proper. He did. The Bard manufacturing, directed by Louisa Proske, is scenically spare however richly costumed and dramatically efficient. And Botstein, main the American Symphony Orchestra, a powerful forged and the wonderful Bard Pageant Chorale, made a compelling case for the piece. (How has it languished when many lesser scores by French composers of Chausson’s period — particularly, for me, Massenet — maintain returning to worldwide phases?)
The affect of Wagner, particularly “Tristan und Isolde,” looms over “Le Roi Arthus.” Chausson was a Wagner devotee, no query: For his honeymoon in 1883, he took his spouse to the Bayreuth Pageant to see “Parsifal.” As he labored on “Arthus,” Chausson exchanged letters along with his good friend Debussy, who had a love-hate relationship with Wagner. In a single letter Chausson wrote that the similarity of subject material between his opera and “Tristan” — each regarding overpowering emotions of affection that result in betrayals of marriage and responsibility — wouldn’t matter to him if he “may solely efficiently de-Wagnerize myself.”
Wagnerian strands run by the music, even hints of motifs from “Tristan” and the so-called “Tristan” chord. But the rating additionally comes throughout as beholden to the French heritage Chausson was born into, particularly Franck and Massenet. His use of thick chromatic harmonies is much less darkish and elusive, extra ludic and radiant, than Wagner’s writing. The rating is wealthy with lyrical stretches that just about break into music.
The orchestral prelude teems, at first, with swashbuckling music that implies the triumphant battle the king’s forces have simply waged over the invading Saxons. We meet Arthur, along with his spouse, Guinevere, at his aspect, presiding over a celebratory gathering of his courtroom. The baritone Norman Garrett, in elegant robes and gold crown, seemed and sounded splendid as Arthur. His voice, deep-set however able to lightness in its excessive vary, simply conveyed authority and dignity. But even in his opening monologue he plumbed the music for hints of the king’s vulnerability.
When the king singles out the valiant knight Lancelot (the ardent tenor Matthew White) as a “true victor,” the opposite knights mutter their resentments, particularly the menacing Mordred (Justin Austin, a youthful baritone). On this telling of the story, Lancelot and Guinevere are already deeply consumed by illicit love. Because the queen, the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke brings gleaming sound and a contact of self-destructive volatility to her singing. In contrast to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, this couple is absolutely conscious that they’re betraying their king and their oaths. However, as Guinevere sings, “love is the one regulation.”
The singers introduced dedication to an vital mission, studying these demanding roles for this manufacturing. Botstein’s enthusiasm for a rating he has lengthy championed got here by — typically an excessive amount of. In bringing out the brassy richness and depth of the music, he typically let the orchestra overpower the singers. Nonetheless, he introduced pressing pacing and coloration to this practically three-hour rating.
The opera ends with a sequence of demise scenes, one for every of the principal characters — a dramatically dangerous transfer that Chausson handles deftly. In a daringly sluggish, mesmerizing monologue, Guinevere strangles herself along with her personal lengthy hair. Lancelot, having provided no protection in a battle with former comrades who’re avenging their king, comes again to the fortress mortally wounded, residing lengthy sufficient to ask Arthur’s forgiveness in anguished but noble phrases
The shaken Arthur, looking for demise, is greeted by a bunch of heavenly maidens who supply to take him away — to not demise, however to everlasting sleep. Chausson turned this sequence right into a shimmering, harmonically lush double refrain, carried out right here by choristers in celestial white robes. “Your identify might perish,” they inform Arthur, however “your concepts are immortal.”
Let’s hope this manufacturing helps Chausson’s opera thrive as properly.
Le Roi Arthus
Via Sunday at Bard School; fishercenter.bard.edu. Additionally streamed at that web site on July 28.