BARD SUMMERSCAPE PRESENTS U.S. PREMIERE OF FULLY-STAGED PRODUCTION OF ROBERT SCHUMANN’S ONLY OPERA, GENOVEVA, WITH KASPER BECH HOLTEN DIRECTING
HOLTEN, ONE OF EUROPE’S MOST EXCITING YOUNG OPERA DIRECTORS, COMES TO BARD SUMMERSCAPE FRESH FROM HIS “SMASH HIT” RING CYCLE AT THE ROYAL DANISH OPERA
GENOVEVA WILL BE PRESENTED ON JULY 28 & 30, AUGUST 2, 4, & 5
“Of the operas that have been produced over the last 50 years
it is certainly the one I prefer.”
—Franz Liszt on Schumann’s Genoveva
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Kasper Bech Holten, the 33-year-old artistic director of the Royal Danish Opera, will direct Bard SummerScape’s production of Robert Schumann’s only opera, Genoveva, this summer, premiering on Friday, July 28 at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY (five performances through August 5).
Holten’s name might not yet be widely known, but given the massive challenge of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, he produced a stunning success for press and public alike at Copenhagen’s spectacular new opera house. A Financial Times review states, “Kasper Bech Holten is appallingly talented.” And Bloomberg reports, “ Holten’s sense of theater is unerring.”
Holten’s only previous stateside assignment was the belated U.S. premiere of György Ligeti’s 1978 black comedy, Le grand macabre, at San Francisco Opera in 2004, a production that he originally produced at the Royal Danish Opera. Reviews were superb, with Joshua Kosman reporting in the Chronicle that “like Ligeti, Holten always has his eye firmly on the audience . . . The result is a production that gauges perfectly what an audience needs to stay focused.”
Kasper Bech Holten, born in 1973 in Copenhagen, Denmark, was appointed artistic director of the Royal Danish Opera in 1999. He has directed more than 40 productions of opera, drama, musical theater and operetta in Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Latvia, France, the U.S., and Austria. Holten has directed opera, musicals and drama at the Royal Danish Theatre, Royal Danish Opera, San Francisco Opera, Folkoperan Stockholm, and Opéra National de Lyon.
OpernWelt, the international opera monthly, named him Director of the Year in 1996 and 2000. Holten comments:
“For me opera is about trying to make people cry. The opera house should be the emotional fitness-center of society—a place where you go to exercise your love-muscles, your hate-muscles and all the others as well. Genoveva is wildly dramatic, moving and fascinating—that is, if you like exploring all this instead of looking for some kind of realism in it! A director’s entire job is about inspiring other people—the singers, musicians, design team and finally the audience. I find it so rewarding to be able to make my ideas grow in other people’s minds—what a privilege!”
The scenic designer for Genoveva is the visual artist Christian Lemmerz, who represented Denmark in the 1996 São Paulo Biennial. Lemmerz, who studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Art after several years’ work in Carrara, Italy, is also an actor, filmmaker, and performance artist who has built a reputation for realist/surrealist work.
Holten and Lemmerz turn the stage into a mystical landscape with this production of Genoveva. The resplendent soprano Ylva Kihlberg—who sang Gerhilde in Die Walküre and Gutrune in Götterdämmerung in Holten’s Copenhagen Ring—sings the title role, with the young Canadian-American tenor Philippe Castagner as her rogue admirer, Golo.
Genoveva premiered in Leipzig in 1850 and was performed at a revival conducted by Franz Liszt five years later. Liszt wrote to the pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein: “I must leave you now to go rehearse Schumann’s Genoveva. . . . Of the operas that have been produced over the last 50 years it is certainly the one I prefer (Wagner excepted—that is understood).”
In the first full-scale production of the opera in the U.S., Bard SummerScape will introduce audiences anew to Genoveva. “Genoveva is a dream of love that turns into a nightmare. It’s about obsession and what happens when you are obsessed with love,” explains Holten. “The protagonist is really Golo, a character much like Alberich, who thirsts for the love of Genoveva, but can’t have it and turns instead into a terrible caricature of himself.”
Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted one of the exceedingly rare recordings of Genoveva, and wrote in the set’s booklet:
“It’s incredibly beautiful music. . . . [I’ve seen] all the withering reviews the work has elicited in the course of the last hundred years [and] had the impression that each critic was merely repeating what others had written before him. . . . Genoveva is a psychological drama, completely unclassical, thoroughly modern, almost absurdist.”
In each of the three previous seasons of Bard SummerScape, new productions of rarely performed operas have been the festival’s centerpiece—linking SummerScape with its older sibling, the 17 year-old Bard Music Festival. In 2003, the first Bard SummerScape produced Leos Janáček’s Osud, with sets designed by Frank Gehry, the architect of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. In 2004, Shostakovich’s remarkable comedy, The Nose, was directed by Francesca Zambello with sets designed by architect Rafael Viñoly. And in 2005, Marc Blitzstein’s Regina—described by the New York Times as a “spare, elegant and classy” production—was directed by Peter Schneider with sets by Judy Pfaff, a MacArthur “genius” fellowship recipient.
“There are many chances to see Rigoletto or Figaro, but you won’t come across Genoveva very often,” says Kasper Bech Holten. “We will do our best to make it a wild and intense music-theatre experience, exploring the romantic wilderness of the text instead of excusing it.”
Kasper Bech Holten discusses Genoveva and other matters in the short interview that follows.
Robert Schumann’s Genoveva at Bard SummerScape 2006 (beginning July 28, 2006)
Genoveva, Schumann’s only opera, receives its first U.S. staged production in the Sosnoff Theater at the Fisher Center. Principal cast members are Ylva Kihlberg, soprano (Genoveva); Philippe Castagner, tenor (Golo); and Johannes Mannov, baritone (Siegfried). Leon Botstein conducts the American Symphony Orchestra for all five performances.
Kasper Bech Holten directs. Scenic design by Christian Lemmerz.
Five performances: July 28 and 30; August 2, 4, 5, 2006.
Tickets: $35, 55, 85.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at (845) 758-7900, or online at http://summerscape.bard.edu.
AN INTERVIEW WITH KASPER BECH HOLTEN, DIRECTOR OF BARD SUMMERSCAPE’S GENOVEVA
Q: What is it especially about Genoveva that made you accept Bard’s invitation? Were you familiar with the work beforehand? Now that you know it, will you approach it in a “non-historical” way?
Holten: I have always found it interesting to be challenged. I did not know Genoveva, but I thought it was interesting that Schumann had written an opera. It is a challenging piece for a director, but it is also wonderfully operatic with its wild German high romanticism, and it reminded me of a mix
between Lohengrin and Freischütz.
For me opera is about trying to make people cry. The opera house should be the emotional fitness-center of society—a place where you go to use your love-muscle, your hate-muscle etc. Genoveva is so wildly dramatic, moving and fascinating, if you want to express all this instead of looking for realism in it.
For me, the more I get to know it, Genoveva is a dream of love that turns into a nightmare. It is about obsession—what happens when you are obsessed with love. The main character is really Golo, a character much like Alberich, who thirsts for love but cannot have it and turns into a terrible
caricature of himself.
Q: Why should a critic or editor write about or review this admittedly off-the-beaten-track work?
Holten: First of all because you will have millions of chances to review Rigoletto or Nozze, but you won’t come across Genoveva very often. So if you have any curiosity that should already make you come! But also because we will try to make it a wild, intense music theatre experience, using the romantic wilderness of the text instead of excusing it.
Q: What got you into directing and when? Did you—like James Levine—do theatrical stagings with puppets as a child?
Holten: I did, actually! I saw Carmen when I was nine at the Royal Danish Opera (where I am now artistic director), and I was completely sold! I listened to the record over and over again, and started dragging my parents to opera every so often (they both work in finance), but at 12 they started to just let me go to the opera alone. At around the same time, we got a toy theatre and I started off by doing Lohengrin, but from 12 to 14 I actually put on the WHOLE “Ring” cycle on the toy theatre – using Karajan’s recording as the soundtrack. For Götterdämmerung I even entered the whole Danish translation in my computer and timed it all, so we had our own titles for the audience! But still: My poor family, who had to sit through the whole “Ring”...
At 18, I decided to give it a go and I started working as assistant director to people I admired. Very soon, I was lucky enough to get a chance to direct a chamber opera. And since then, it has moved really fast. But if anybody had told me 15 years ago that by now I would have directed the whole “Ring” in a new opera house for the Royal Danish Opera—where I would be artistic director—I would just have laughed. For me, directing is an incredible way of working: Your whole job is about inspiring other people—the singers, design team and finally the audience. I find it so rewarding to be able to make my ideas grow in other people’s minds. What a privilege!
Q: Do you have any further dates in the U.S. beyond Genoveva at Bard?
Holten: Not yet. Right now I’m looking forward to doing a number of interesting projects in Europe including Maskarade (Carl Nielsen) in Copenhagen, La Traviata in Stockholm, Elvis Costello’s first opera Secret Songs and Don Carlo in Copenhagen, Lohengrin at Novaya Opera in Moscow, and Le Nozze di Figaro in Vienna and Copenhagen.
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This event was last updated on 08-10-2006