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A Tasting Menu of Uncommon Delights at Bard

Anyone who thinks of New England and the Hudson River Valley as being home to more traditional music hasn’t checked out the college’s eclectic and experimental summer offerings in theater and music.

It’s 40 minutes from my front door in Lakeville, Conn., to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., also known as the town of Red Hook (not to be confused with the one in Brooklyn). 

It’s a bit of a drive, but the ride is exquisite, especially at sunset. The famous Mercato restaurant in Red Hook has closed down, but its chef/owners Michele and Francesco Buitoni (descendants of award-winning Italian pasta makers) have now opened GioBatta in nearby Tivoli, N.Y. 

That might not be enough to tempt you deep into the heart of the scenic Hudson Valley — but then there is Bard SummerScape. 

Anyone who thinks of New England and the Hudson River Valley as being home to more traditional music hasn’t checked out the college’s eclectic and experimental summer offerings in theater and music.

“Eclectic and experimental” might be off putting, but when you combine them with the third E — entertaining! — then you have something worth a 40-minute drive. 

There are several stages and venues at Bard including of course the Sosnoff Theater in the undulating, metal-clad Frank Gehry-designed building, which is worth a trip to Annandale-on-Hudson in its own right.

There is also a new stage at Montgomery Place, the historic Hudson Valley estate just down the road from the main campus that was purchased by Bard a few years ago. 

Montgomery Place this summer will host some of the younger, kickier events, including three performances from July 15 to 17 by transgender artist Mx. Justin Vivian Bond in “Your Auntie Glam’s Midsummer Flutter.”

For those who are not connoisseurs of the world of drag: The New Yorker magazine calls Bond “the greatest cabaret artist of this generation.”

Other dance and theater programs on the schedule for the summer fall somewhere between Mx. Bond and the more traditional, classical end of the spectrum. 

A highlight, for me at least, of this year’s SummerScape will be the first fully staged North American production, at the Sosnoff Theater, of one of only three operas composed by  Ernest Chasson, called “Le Roi Arthus.” 

This French-language opera tells the story of King Arthur and his betrayal by his best friend and his wife (and eventually his son, but that’s not in the opera). 

At the helm for this production (performed between July 25 and Aug. 1)  is Bard’s president as well as the SummerScape festival founder and artistic director, Leon Botstein. Botstein is eccentric, creative and talented and loves to put on worthwhile shows that are only rarely produced. 

Sometimes, of course, there’s a reason why no one has ever produced a show before. “Le Roi Arthus” is a very long opera (the Gramophone recording is 2 hours and 47 minutes long). But Botstein is on record as being a huge fan of the opera, which has passages that are described as rich and gorgeous. The whole show might not be outstanding but (and this might be the theme of all SummerScape shows), what is life without a little experimentation. 

For those who fear that nearly three hours of an opera they’ve never heard before might be too much, the production will also be streamed, allowing the viewer to wander in and out. 

Also at Bard between Aug. 6 and 15 will be the Summer Music Festival, built around the career of Nadia Boulanger and the musicians who influenced and taught her. 

The list is long and, according to the preview statement of the festival, includes “music by her teachers and mentors, including Gabriel Fauré, Louis Vierne and Charles Marie Widor; her Parisian contemporaries, like Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie and expats George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Igor Stravinsky; her male students, including Jean Françaix, Astor Piazzolla, and illustrious Americans Marc Blitzstein, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Walter Piston and Virgil Thomson; her female students, like Marcelle de Manziarly, Thea Musgrave, Julia Perry and Louise Talma; other women composers, Germaine Taillefaire and Lili Boulanger, Nadia’s celebrated sister, among them; and some of the bygone composers whose music she vociferously championed, like Monteverdi, Bach and Brahms.”


For full information on Bard SummerScape and the Summer Music Festival, go to www.fishercenter.bard.edu.

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