ANNANDALE—I loved the look of “Euryanthe,” the full-scale opera that is part of this year’s SummerScape at Bard College. My friend Elsa loved the music, sung by two sterling sopranos, a terrific tenor, a compelling bass-baritone and a robust bass. If we both found the plot a little outlandish, never mind, most opera plots are over the top, and this year’s opera experience at Bard is rich and sustaining.
Billed as a Grand Romantic Opera in Three Acts—or a story of jealousy and betrayal—“Euryanthe” is based on a 13th-century romance. It opens with a brilliant flashback performed in silence against the overture. From then on, the ghost of Emma, played by “dance artist” Anna Chiaverini, haunts the stage.
Euryanthe (Ellie Dehn) betrays her fiancé, Count Adolar (tenor William Burden), not sexually but in words, by sharing the secret of the silent opening scene with Eglantine (Wendy Bryn Harmer), whom she considers a friend. If there’s anything in Carl Maria von Weber’s 1823 opera that we can all hang our hats on, it’s this loose-lipped betrayal and Euryanthe’s immediate remorse—seconds too late.
After a delightfully devilish glance at the audience, Eglantine hatches a plot with Lysiart (Ryan Kuster), both of them consumed with jealousy. Despite words of love previously sung by Adolar, and words of support sung by King Ludwig (bass Peter Volpe), their plot succeeds. The king gives Adolar’s lands to Lysiart. The male chorus strips Euryanthe (pronounced, in song, oou-ranth) down to her white underthings and paints a red X on her. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” (1850) was still decades away, in case you’re wondering who might have influenced whom. Here the chorus’s rough handling of Euryanthe echoed for us nothing less than Muslim stoning of women.
Adolar and Euryanthe wander the forest, where they are attacked by a most amazing serpent monster that descends, incrementally, from the ceiling. She saves his life from this monster, but that’s still not enough.
Retribution comes in the third act, when Eglantine’s guilt is consuming her. She confesses to the king and kills herself, putting a red slash across her white dress. Lysiart is banished in shame. Adolar and Euryanthe are reunited and forgive each other, with perhaps the greater generosity on her part. The ghost can settle, her spirit granted what it needed.
Every word of this is sung, in German, with English surtitles projected above the stage. Leon Botstein, music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, conducts. James Bagwell, professor of music at Bard, is chorus master. Director Kevin Newbury set the production in the Victorian era, made Emma a major character and dreamed up the monster image for the roots of jealousy, all improvements to a weak original libretto by Helmina von Chezy.
The remaining performances are Friday, August 1 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, August 3 at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, call the Fisher Center Box Office, 845 758-7900, or visit fishercenter.bard.edu.