Euryanthe I Bard SummerScape
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Bard SummerScape

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Ann Chiaverini (Emma), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Eglantine), Ellie Dehn (Euryanthe) and William Burden (Adolar) in Kevin Newbury's production of Weber's Euryanthe at the Bard SummerScape
© Cory Weaver 20114
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William Burden as Adolar
© Cory Weaver 2014
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Dehn and Harmer
© Cory Weaver 2014

The Bard Festival offered a fascinating look at Carl Maria von Weber’s 1823 opera Euryanthe, a work that lavishes wonderful music on a very problematic libretto (seen July 25). Euryanthe occupies an interesting transitional role, with elements suggesting Die Zauberflöte and Fidelio as influences but with some moments standing as clear prefigurings of Wagner’s achievements later in the nineteenth century. Wagner borrowed from Euryanthe not only Lohengrin’s basic jealousy-driven plot of one couple destabilizing another couple’s wedding (with a more or less benevolent King presiding) but virtually the exact vocal casting of the five principal roles. Musical echoes, as well as the libretto, underline another debt Lohengrin owes to Euryanthe — the contrast the tenor hero, Adolar, draws between the loyalty of the King and the army that wants him to stay and lead them and the perceived betrayal (and actual oath-breaking) of his soprano fiancée, Euryanthe. Other Euryanthe music prefigures Der Fliegende Holländer and Tannhäuser. The device of having the “good” couple wander miserable and vulnerable in the forest in Act III of Euryanthe has sonorities and structures that anticipate the Volsungs in Act II of Die Walküre.

Director Kevin Newbury solved some narrative problems and created others: his use of the largely upbeat Prelude to explain the secret pivotal to the plot (the suicide of the hero’s sister Emma) straddled both categories. Victoria Tzykun’s set productively deployed scrims, a liftable wall with a striking tripartite Romantic landscape canvas and a trapdoor crypt that Newbury overused. (The vicious Eglantine kept reentering from it.) Newbury got excellent work from his principals but overdirected the chorus, with constant upstaging business and silliness such as the noblemen carrying in and out their own (unneeded) chairs. D. M. Wood’s lighting helped more than Jessica Jahn’s Prussian/Victorian costumes.

The title role has been the property of Wagnerian sopranos on recordings, with Maria Reining and Jessye Norman notable interpreters. Yet Euryanthe was created by soprano Henriette Sontag (1806–54), who sang the premieres of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnisin 1824. Obviously Sontag had flexibility and easy, blooming top notes; so did Bard’s Ellie Dehn, a real boon in Weber’s many quick scale-work passages. The basic purity of Dehn’s Mozart-honed sound and her very sympathetic stage persona also proved assets. Occasionally, one wanted more oomph on lower notes, but Dehn did a splendid job. So did the ardent Adolar, William Burden, who was linguistically clear and musically scrupulous as ever. The slightly plaintive quality of Burden’s tenor made Adolar (a rather foolish hero) affecting as well as sonorous. 

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Ryan Kuster (Lysiart), Harmer and Burden
© Cory Weaver 2014

Bright-voiced Jugendlich-dramatischer soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer sang Eglantine fluently and with dramatic flair. Bass-baritone Ryan Kuster filled out Lysiart’s tuxedo in best “leading man villain” mode, stalking Euryanthe purposefully. He sounded imposing when singing alone but — perhaps from overdarkening the timbre — emerged juiceless when the music got more expansive, thus vanishing under his colleagues in ensembles. Peter Volpe’s aptly authoritative King was vibrato-ridden but accurate. Margaret Dudley sang Bertha’s brief lines delightfully.

Again one felt very grateful to Leon Botstein for his questing programming and willingness to produce worthy operatic rarities; again one felt that — outside the realm of music from the decades close to World War I, repertoire in which he seems comfortable — Botstein would serve both composers and his audience far better if he used some of Bard’s evidently lavish resources to engage first-rate conductors. Nothing was disastrous, but a surer pace was needed; string tone was ragged around the edges, and the horns sounded under-rehearsed, particularly in the hunting chorus that recalls Weber’s earlier Freischütz. Weber’s remarkable score deserved the best possible performance the American Symphony Orchestra’s fine players could have given. spacer 


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