It’s Great to Be King: Baritone Liam Bonner Stars in Bard SummerScape’s Production of Chabrier’s The King in Spite of Himself, Opening Fri, July 27
“[Chabrier’s The King in Spite of Himself is] one of the most influential music-theatre works of the late nineteenth century. … The Bard SummerScape festival, which has had great success in reviving neglected French operas in recent years, presents ‘Le Roi’ from July 27 to August 5…connoisseurs will descend en masse.”
– Alex Ross/New Yorker
The Bard SummerScape Festival presents its first comic opera beginning Friday, July 27 (with four additional performances July 29, Aug 1, 3 and 5), when the original 1887 version of Emmanuel Chabrier’s The King in Spite of Himself (Le roi malgré lui) receives its first staged production in the U.S. The opera receives a contemporary treatment from director Thaddeus Strassberger – recently named one of opera’s “Next Wave” of leading talents by Opera News – whose previous SummerScape opera productions rank among Bard’s undisputed success stories. Leon Botstein conducts the American Symphony Orchestra, who together gave a “vibrant and assured” (New York Times) concert performance of the opera in New York City in 2005. Leading the exciting young cast at Bard is the “lyrical, expressive baritone” (New York Times) Liam Bonner as Henri de Valois, a 16th-century noble named King of Poland despite pining for his native France.
In the Q & A that follows, Liam Bonner discusses his first foray into Chabrier’s operas and why it will be great to be King up at the 2012 Bard SummerScape Festival.
Q: Is this your first time performing Chabrier’s music?
Liam Bonner: Yes, this is my first time performing any of Chabrier's music. In researching more about him, I believe that one of the reasons is the fact that he didn't have a very large output of music. However, what he did produce was always considered the highest quality. If you see this opera, I'm certain you'll agree!
Q: What is it like to play an unwilling king?
LB: You know, we're still discovering a lot about this piece, but it's quite comical. Chabrier has given me an historical figure, Henry III, who was known to be quite eccentric and not interested in ruling at all, but rather in being a playboy; having fun and giving orders, but not really governing or leading. I'm going to have a lot of fun with it and that's the point.
Q: Last year, you sang the title role in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, as well as Zurga
in Bizet’s Les pêcheurs des perles. What do you enjoy most about French opera?
LB: French opera has become for me a style very well suited for my voice, especially with regards to the tessitura, the lyrical lines, and the need for a large enough voice to cut through those very romantic orchestrations. I feel quite at home in French repertory. I feel like my voice just goes there, that I don't have to over-think the vocal aspect of those pieces, and I can give equal focus to the dramatic aspect that I believe is so important to opera, as a visual art form.
Q: What is the working atmosphere like at Bard, in the center of the Hudson Valley?
LB: We're basically up here on a giant piece of land, like a farm or the countryside, where it's quiet and serene. It's a beautiful place to spend the summer, to focus on your craft and not to be distracted by the lights of the City. I feel very peaceful and almost zen-like here. It's a wonderful working environment with extremely supportive colleagues and staff, who are all focused on telling the story and presenting a relatively unknown piece that's accessible to both the opera aficionado and novice. I also haven't seen a bad sunset since I've been here!
Q: If you were told tomorrow that you could perform any role you wanted in any opera
house in the world, what would it be and where?
LB: My dream role, even after talking about how well French repertoire suits me, is actually Germont in Traviata. That's definitely a role I'll play someday down the line when I've got the advantage of age on my side, but it's a role that has always spoken to me and one that, I believe, is so deep with dramatic context. To me, the duet between Violetta and Germont is the meat and potatoes of that opera. I feel like I'd have a lot to say as an artist with that role. Now, where? Well, there are a few opera houses I still have yet to check off my list, so to name a few: Royal Opera House, Paris Opéra, and/or Teatro alla Scala.
Q: Looking forward, where will we be able to see you in the coming months?
LB: Le Roi is a co-production with the Wexford Festival Opera in Wexford, Ireland, so I'll be traveling there this fall. I've never been to Ireland, and am very much looking forward to exploring that beautiful country and hopefully making a trip to the area where my ancestors came from, County Donegal. Then this winter, I revisit a role I created last fall with Minnesota Opera, Lieutenant Audebert in Silent Night by Kevin Puts, at Opera Company of Philadelphia. That piece won the composer the Pulitzer Prize for Music this year, and I'm proud to have been a part of the world premiere as well as continuing with the production.
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841–94)
The King in Spite of Himself (“Le roi malgré lui”, 1887) †
Sung in French, with English supertitles
American Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger
Set Design by Kevin Knight
Costume Design by Mattie Ullrich
Henri: Liam Bonner
Nangis: Michele Angelini
Minka: Andriana Chuchman
Alexina: Nathalie Paulin
Fritelli: Frédéric Goncalves
Laski: Jeffrey Mattsey
Basile: Jason Ferrante
July 27* and August 3 at 7:00pm
July 29* and August 1 and 5* at 3:00pm
Tickets: $30, $60, $70, $90
Opera Talk with Leon Botstein
July 29 at 1:00pm
Free and open to the public
Special support for The King in Spite of Himself is provided by Emily H. Fisher and John Alexander.
The Opera Talk is presented in memory of Sylvia Redlick Green.
Bard SummerScape Ticket Information
For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu.
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