to spare: Osud at Bard.
By Paul Rapp
Bard SummerScape, The Fisher
Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, July 25
With the new and stunning Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center
as a centerpiece, Bard’s SummerScape arts series is exploring
the world of Czech art. A remarkably diverse and fun menu
of theater, film and music is slated—the major presentation
of the schedule being last Friday’s U.S. premier of the opera
Osud (Fate), by turn-of-the-century composer
This was also the debut of Gehry as a set designer and he
did not disappoint. As the curtains parted for the beginning
of the opera, the audience spontaneously erupted into applause
and whoops of excitement. And no one was on the stage. The
huge set consisted of, on the right, a huge white fabric-looking
thing suspended in the air. Depending on your mood, this thing
looked like a tornado, a bodice (coming off), or a huge lily
opening in bloom. On the left was a big long brown tube thing,
which could have been a tree trunk, flying dog poop, or a
huge mutilated hot dog. Both seemed to float in the air, neither
was put to much use during the play, and both were so fascinating
that one didn’t tire of looking at them.
The play had passion to spare: It involved a composer who,
believing his lover had betrayed him, wrote a nasty opera
about her. Reunited after several years, the composer realizes
it was all a big misunderstanding, and here he is with a masterpiece
dissing his own girlfriend! What to do? He axes the last scene
of his opera. Then the girlfriend dies. And his opera is performed,
as he wails in grief. The end. For many operas, the story
lines aren’t paradigms of clarity, but so what?
The production was generally wonderful. Many of the scenes
involved not just the protagonists, but a crowd of passers-by
and hangers-out, who added responses to the solos and duets,
and often took over the proceedings entirely. Janácek’s score
is glorious, with many modern and dissonant touches, but enough
old-school romantic melodicism to keep the pleasure points
satisfied. And the chorus of boys and girls stayed totally
goofy throughout, which added a nice counterpoint to the dead
serious demeanor of the main characters.
Some of the staging seemed forced, like somebody’s trying
a bit to hard to be Robert Wilson. What’s up with the whiteface
and lipstick on all the men? And some of the mass uniform
movement behind the solo singers was distracting and unnecessary.
The singing was outstanding, particularly the big ensemble
numbers. Michael Hendrick, as Zivny, the composer, gained
steam throughout the play to deliver a shattering closing
aria. Paul Mow, in a fairly small role as Dr. Suda, shook
the rafters every time he sang with his warm, round-tone tenor.
And Linda Roark-Strummer, as the mother, stole every scene
she was in.
What the opera didn’t have was a star, someone with the charismatic
presence to suck you in and keep you there for a couple of
weeks. But it served its purpose in spades—to introduce to
America a great work by a musical genius who has been overlooked
for far too long.