"What's necessary at any festival are highlights piquing people's interest, and I think we have that," says director Nigel Redden with characteristic understatement.
This summer's: July 5 to August 14 _hosts The Cleveland Orchestra performing Anton Bruckner and John Adams, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in five productions at the Park Avenue Armory, the Mariinsky Ballet's first Festival appearances since 2002, and the belated Festival debut of legendary director Peter Brook with A Magic Flute.
And those are only the "highlights." There's also the North American premiere of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion based on Mishima's story; the Druid Theatre's return with Sean O'Casey's The Silver Tassie; the first North American performances of Poul Ruders' Selma Jezkovš by the Royal Danish Opera; a day-long multi-activity immersion in choreographer Merce Cunningham's works, a performance by Brazilian specialist Tom Z_; and another world-premiere installation by artist David Michalek.
The RSC's six-week residency is unprecedented _as is the fact that the Company will perform in a replica of their Stratford stage specially built at the Armory. "We explored places they could perform, and because (artistic director) Michael Boyd wanted a thrust stage, they became convinced it was the Armory," Redden explains. "We'd love more than these five productions, but they're here for only six weeks. These plays will show the breadth of the Company." The RSC is brought to New York by Lincoln Center Festival and Park Avenue Armory, in association with The Ohio State University.
The Cleveland Orchestra starts a multi-year residency that includes opera productions in future years. "Visiting orchestras are not new _the Mariinsky came the first year, and the New York Philharmonic has been involved," Redden says. "(Music director) Franz Welser-Most wanted to reexamine Bruckner, who is unappreciated as Mahler was before Bernstein. Franz also sees Bruckner as a progenitor of minimalism, so juxtaposing him with John Adams makes sense. Such programming also makes sense for us."
Mariinsky director Valery Gergiev's mission to present unfamiliar Russian music aligns with Redden's mandate. "Our long relationship with the Mariinsky includes American premieres of works by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Rubenstein," he says. "Valery purposefully uses his reputation to expand the reach of Russian music. Our mandate, to present unexamined works outside the Western European canon, fits with Valery championing Rodin Shchedrin (whose ballets The Humpbacked Little Horse and Anna Karenina are featured this year)." These productions are a co-presentation of Lincoln Center Festival and The Metropolitan Opera.
That Peter Brook never appeared at the Festival is something that never worked out for various reasons, Redden admits: until this summer, when Brook and his former company, the RSC, appear. "This is the best time to have him come, bringing things full circle," Redden says. "A Magic Flute is in the tradition of La Tragedie de Carmen from 1983, Brook's re-thinking of a well-known work. With one piano and few singers, he gets to the heart of its theatricality in an intimate manner."
Another Festival first-timer, the Danish Royal Opera gives the North American premiere of Poul Ruders' latest opera. "Ruders' music has rarely been heard here, which is a pity," Redden laments. "There are many schools of modern operatic composing: we have been a proponent of Salvatore Sciarrino, and Ruders' lyrical style is at the other end of the spectrum." The ensemble will also perform orchestral and chamber concerts of works by Danish master Carl Nielsen, Norwegian Johan Svendsen, and Igor Stravinsky puts Ruders' music in historical and musical contexts.
Following its 2006 Festival success with Druid-Synge, a John Millington Synge marathon, Ireland's Druid Theatre returns with Sean O'Casey's The Silver Tassie directed by Tony winner and Druid artistic director Garry Hynes, whom Redden says is perfect for such material. "She does a brilliant job with these plays' poetry, the lilt that must be brought out in performance," he explains. "In Synge's plays, the hand _or fist _of fate is felt, and O'Casey's in that tradition. It's difficult making the four acts work, but she emphasizes the contrasts, ultimately making this play about a young man enthusiastically going off to war resonant today."
Also returning is Amon Miyamoto, whose Pacific Overtures received such a sensational response at the 2002 Festival, it later earned him a Best Director Tony nomination. Miyamoto's new Kanagawa Arts Theatre brings its first production to the Festival, an adaptation of Yukio Mishima's novel " was one of the most wonderful of many wonderful things we've done here," Redden says. "He's done an extremely good job bringing Mishima's novel to life, and his cast: including Go Morita from popular boy band V6: says a lot about Japan today."
Rounding out the Festival are an outdoor installation and two singular events. Merce Fair celebrates the legacy of choreographer Merce Cunningham, who died in 2009 and was a Festival mainstay since its inception. Redden says, "We wanted to say goodbye to him adequately, showing his influence through music, dance, fashion, and film, along with discussions about him as one of the most important choreographers of the 20th century and among the most important American choreographers ever."
Brazilian singer-songwriter Tom Z_, a major figure in Tropicšlia, returns to the U.S. for his first concert in what Redden says feels like ages: "There has been a major rediscovery of his music and its widespread impact on popular music worldwide." Showing nightly on the David H. Koch Theater facade is a new installation by David Michalek, whose Slow Dancing was a 2007 Festival hit. "was revelatory," says Redden. "Here, he uses actors instead of dancers, which is more risky because acting is associated more with vocal communication, but there's no sound. As in his earlier show, he communicates emotional transformations that happen quickly in real life but which he slows down." This extraordinary lineup shows that Festival 2011 comprises more than mere "highlights," according to Redden: "Some events might not be quite as high-profile or recognizable to audiences, but to us they're all significant."