The Oldcastle Theatre Company is one of the most appealing in the Berkshires, which, culturally, extends from northwestern Connecticut to Dorset and Weston, Vermont. Downtown Bennington has a unique feeling to it—small-town in the best sense—and is home to a respectable array of bars and restaurants for audiences to enjoy anticipation or a cool-down before or after the show. Keith Kibler has been chronicling and enjoying—very much—Oldcastle’s productions for some years on our site, and I was happy finally to catch a show myself.
Perhaps it is unduly portentous to say that the still new Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is enigmatic, but his uneven performances and inconsistent approaches to interpretation and orchestral sound have been somewhat puzzling. These two recent concerts, now, have impressed on me that he has finally hit his stride with the orchestra, although he has already achieved some important successes over the past two years—above all, the concert performances of Strauss’s Salome and Elektra—and there has been a lot to like in his Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Brahms. These Tanglewood concerts are in fact not the first which I thought showed that he had developed in the orchestra a new style of playing together as a group—one very different from that so painstakingly developed by James Levine and insouciantly left to tend itself by Seiji Ozawa.
Musically, this summer in the Berkshires, there was one event that was truly exciting, in the sense of something important that was entirely new…or almost, as the people behind it made entirely clear. Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing the two impressive and engaging founders of the Berkshire Opera Festival, Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman, who promised to “bring fully-staged opera back to the Berkshires.” And this they have just fulfilled with a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, that was in a way as perfect as an opera performance can get, considering that opera is the quintessence of imperfection among art forms—or perhaps that should be said of art itself. Musical and theatrical ability that was both solid and brilliant, imagination, good taste, and deep knowledge and understanding of the work and its authors flowed together with all the concentration and energy aroused by a new, make-or-break enterprise to create a performance that can only be described as an object lesson in how to perform opera—and a thrilling and moving one newcomers, casual opera-goers, and opera-makers alike can appreciate. The Berkshire Opera Festival has, within less than a week, made itself indispensible.
A singular departure this year at summer’s end. Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre (of Cambridge, New York), the dream-child of Alexina Jones, has lost its creator and mentor. She goes on to a position with Saratoga Arts. This young women is an intrepid creator. She built a company from nothing, fit it into the seasonal circumstances of Hubbard Hall, and with the help of her husband, Jason Dolmetsch, plodded through hundreds of hours of planning, auditioning, fund-raising. The Company started out in a modest way—a few instruments, mostly local singers. One of the first of these singers, Kara Cornell, turned in a Carmen that was utterly believable. Watching an opera of this sort in a small hall requires detailed specific acting; the grand gestures seem absurd.