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American premiere of Korngold’s Grand Opera The Miracle of Heliane Opens at Bard SummerScape

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July 17, 2019 11:56 am

Annandale-on-Hudson — Opening on Friday, July 26, Bard SummerScape presents the long overdue American premiere of The Miracle of Heliane (“Das Wunder der Heliane,” 1927). An original staging by German director Christian Räth of the grand opera that Erich Wolfgang Korngold considered his masterpiece, “this show promises everything: symbolism, eroticism, political intrigue and gorgeous orchestration, all done up in the composer’s signature ‘more is more’ musical style” (New York Observer). Featuring Ausrine Stundyte, Daniel Brenna, Alfred Walker and the American Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of festival co-founder and co-artistic director Leon Botstein, The Miracle of Heliane will be sung in German with English supertitles and will run for five performances between July 26 and August 4, with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinee on July 28. SummerScape 2019 also provides the chance to sample some of the operettas written and arranged by Korngold and his contemporaries in “Operetta’s America” (August 11) and to see a semi-staged production of his best-loved opera, Die tote Stadt (“The Dead City”; August 18), during the 30th anniversary season of the Bard Music Festival.

Anchored by the Bard Festival Chorale under the direction of James Bagwell, all three presentations take place on Bard’s glorious Hudson Valley campus in the striking Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center. As the New York Times notes, “Bard has become a haven for important operas.” Click here to see a celebration of opera at Bard SummerScape.

The Miracle of Heliane (“Das Wunder der Heliane,” 1927)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957), whose lush Romanticism would come to define the quintessential Hollywood sound, began his career as a classical prodigy in fin-de-siècle Vienna, becoming a respected opera composer at just 19. Yet, despite the success of his first three operas, the fourth – The Miracle of Heliane (“Das Wunder der Heliane,” 1927) – was dogged by difficulties from the outset, and today, almost a hundred years later, has still never been staged in the United States. This represents a considerable loss. Heliane features “Ich ging zu ihm,” one of Korngold’s best-loved arias, and many agree with the composer’s assessment of the opera as his most important work. Styling the opera “a huge, triumphant song of love and liberation on the grandest scale,” The Guardian explains: “Korngold’s music had always been rich and sensual, but he outdid himself in Heliane.” Indeed, for Brendan G. Carroll, President of the International Korngold Society, Heliane is not only “arguably the composer’s greatest work,” but also one that stands “among the masterpieces of Romantic opera.”

Set to a libretto inspired by the unpublished drama “The Saint” by Hans Kaltneker, The Miracle of Heliane takes place in an unnamed totalitarian state, where an erotic triangle develops between a ruthless despot, the Ruler; his beautiful wife, Heliane, who does not love him; and a young, messianic Stranger. Marking its long-overdue American premiere, Bard’s new production is directed by German director Christian Räth, whose work has graced stages from the Vienna State Opera to New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where he just directed the revival of La fille du regiment.

Heliane’s sets and costumes are the work of Esther Bialas, the Berlin-based designer behind Barrie Kosky’s electrifying production of The Magic Flute. Heliane also features choreography by Catherine Galasso, whose work has been nominated for both “Bessie” and Isadora Duncan Dance Awards; lighting design by Thomas Hase, as seen at LA Opera, New York City Opera, and BAM Next Wave; and projections by Elaine McCarthy, whose work for the world-premiere production of Moby-Dick prompted the New York Times to marvel: “What truly set this production apart were Elaine J. McCarthy’s innovative projections.”

Lithuanian soprano Ausrine Stundyte will make an all-too-rare U.S. appearance in a reprise of the title role in which she recently gave a “transcendent performance” (Bachtrack) in Belgium. She is perhaps best-known for her debut in the Berlin State Opera’s Salome last year, where her “full-blooded, searing performance, replete with musical and psychological nuance,” impressed Opera News as “sensational.” The role of the Stranger will be sung by Wagner Award-winner Daniel Brenna, “one of the best-known heldentenors of his generation” (Opera Wire), with the Ruler of bass-baritone Alfred Walker, who proved “outstanding” as Wagner’s Flying Dutchman in Basel, where his interpretation impressed Germany’s Die Welt as being both “fiery and chilling.”