The Princeton Festival keeps growing in size, diversity, and locations. In 2013, its 10th year of operation, the festival includes 12 performances and four lectures at seven different venues. Indeed, opening night of the festival presents two simultaneous events. Saturday, June 8, at 8 p.m., the Lustig Dance Theater performs at McCarter Theater. At the same time the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra performs in Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton campus.
Richard Tang Yuk, Princeton Festival’s artistic director, explains that the timing is due to insurmountable scheduling problems. In an E-mail he observes, “As the Princeton Festival continues to grow, it is unavoidable to have two events in different locations at the same time. This is what makes a ‘Festival.’ Lots going on in a short period of time.”
The centerpiece of the festival is a staged production of Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” (Der fliegende Hollander) in McCarter’s Matthews Theater on Saturday, June 22, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, June 30, at 3 p.m. Tang Yuk, who is also the festival’s founder, conducts a production devised by Steven LaCosse, the opera director at the festival. Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth, the festival’s staging of “Dutchman,” Wagner’s first mature opera, is its first Wagner presentation. Mark Delavan, who played Wotan, king of the gods at New York’s Metropolitan Opera this season, stars as the Dutchman doomed to roam the seas until he finds love.
“The special thing at the Festival is the wide variety of genres,” says Tang Yuk. “There’s something to appeal to everyone.”
Filling the calendar from June 8 to June 30 are events from all corners of the musical spectrum ranging from medieval music to jazz, and from solo piano and organ recitals to full orchestral events. Small ensembles present classics (including a Wagner transcription) and jazz. Dance and a piano competition fall within the umbrella. A five-day choral-conducting workshop culminates in a choral concert. Princeton High School sends a delegation of performers.
Tang Yuk readily surveys the high points of the festival and reveals how the performance of Wagner’s “Dutchman” evolved. At the top of his list is “Bernardus,” a chamber group devoted to little-heard medieval music, presents “The Eternal Flame,” a multimedia show about secular and sacred visions of love in the Middle Ages on Sunday, June 16, at 7:30 p.m., in Miller Chapel at the Princeton Theological Seminary. The four performers include Jay White, voice; Craig Resta, vielle; and narrators Patrick James, frequent Princeton Festival performer, and Princeton High School’s associate choral director Sarah Pelletier.
World music appears in a program for steel pan with steelpanist Liam Teague and Robert Chappell who perform on piano, marimba, and Indian tabla Friday, June 14, at the Lawrenceville School’s Clark Music Center. “The steel pan is the only instrument invented in the 20th century,” Tang Yuk says.
“It’s a Caribbean instrument originally made from industrial waste — discarded oil drums. It’s very sophisticated. Different types of steel pans have ranges that correspond to violin, viola, guitar, cello, or double bass. This program will change people’s conception of what the steel pan can do. It will be a multicultural experience, placing a Caribbean instrument in other musical traditions. The event is a fusion of different cultures and styles. There’s only one, typical Caribbean calypso piece on the program. The rest is music by Vivaldi, Paganini, jazz improvisation, and new compositions for steel pan.”
Three a cappella jazz groups take part in the 2013 festival. “It’s an effort to appeal to younger audiences,” Tang Yuk says. Round Midnight sings barbershop-style music. Keystone focuses on pop and rock arrangements. Around Eight, a Princeton High School student-led ensemble, incorporates mouth noises that differ from standard singing.
The technical term for the swishes and snorts that Around Eight inserts into its performances is “beatboxing,” used also by flutists interested in extended techniques. Around Eight was formed in 1992 and consisted originally of eight members, two for each of the four basic voice ranges. The 12 members of Around Eight in 2013 are Adam Ainslie, Miranda Alperstein, Maddie Cahill-Sanidas, Rohit Chawla, Teo Fleming, Erin Forden, Christian Giles, India Gupta, Landis Hackett, Matt Mariman, Ally Rogers, and Jeni Schapire. Adam Ainslie directs the ensemble. Vincent Metallo, Princeton High School’s choral director, is their coach.
Students from Princeton-area schools appear also in the concert of the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra, Saturday, June 8, at 8 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium. Consisting of more than 70 high school and college students as well as 40 middle school students who gain their seats in competitive auditions, the GPYO is more than 50 years old. Two entities from the organization play at Princeton Festival in 2013: a symphonic orchestra conducted by Kawika Kahalehoe and a concert orchestra conducted by Arvin Gopal.
Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman,” the centerpiece of the festival, is augmented by a free set of four lectures beginning on Wednesday, June 5, at 7 p.m., in public libraries in the Princeton area (see schedule below). The final lecture, Sunday, June 30, at 11 a.m., the Princeton Public Library, is sponsored by the Wagner Society of New York. Jeffrey Swann, pianist, composer, and Wagner expert, calls his Sunday talk “Stormy Soul: How did Wagner find his Muse?” Sixty members of the Wagner Society are expected to attend the lecture and performance.
Tang Yuk warns that tickets for “Dutchman” are selling out. “They’re selling faster than in any previous season,” he says, “quicker even than ‘La Boheme.’”
“Dutchman” is a new production coproduced with North Carolina-based Piedmont Opera. After its two Princeton performances in June, the work moves to Piedmont for performance in late October. “This ‘Dutchman’ is an expensive production,” Tang Yuk says. “There’s a very large male chorus with the Norwegian sailors and the Dutch sailors. With more personnel, we need more costumes, more wigs, and more makeup. Men choristers are harder to find than women, and we had to look further afield; some of them come from out of state.”
The use of video projections makes the production expensive. “The projectors are expensive to rent,” Tang Yuk says. “With Piedmont on board, we can do a more elaborate production since we’re sharing costs. Fortunately, their stage is roughly the same size as McCarter’s. The design works in both spaces.”
“Dutchman’s” stage director Steven LaCosse delights in using the latest projection technology to tell his version of the story of the sea captain doomed to reappear with his ship every seven years until he finds a loving woman to free him from the curse. Interviewed by telephone from his home base at North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, LaCosse says, “I’ve set the action in 1840, at the time of the industrial revolution. The Dutchman’s ship is from the 16th century and has sails. The Norwegian ship was made 200 years later and is steam powered. In the original, the women spin yarn; in 1840, steam powered looms make fabrics. Our projections are like mini-movies with wheels turning and the waves always rolling in. We’re doing some special things about the appearance and disappearance of the Dutchman’s ship. I’m always about telling the story. As long as we tell the story, that’s what matters.”
“There’s a supernatural element in ‘The Dutchman,’” LaCosse says. “With new technology you can go in and out of reality and make the scenery literal, suggestive, or unrealistic. The supernatural and the technically advanced fit together. Wagner reads like special effects. I wonder how they did it back then.”
“Our projections for ‘Dutchman’ are even more advanced than what we did for ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’” LaCosse says. Under his direction, projections were used for Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the 2009 Princeton Festival. LaCosse has directed nine of the 10 operas that the festival has presented since its founding in 2004.
The Princeton-Piedmont collaboration for “The Flying Dutchman” grew out of a casual conversation between LaCosse and his colleague at North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA), James Allbritten, Piedmont’s artistic director.” Last spring we were talking about celebrating the Verdi, Britten, and Wagner anniversaries,” LaCosse says, “and I suggested that Piedmont join Princeton for the ‘Flying Dutchman.’ It took until October for them to decide to join us. Things went slowly because it’s always a risk when a new production is involved.”
Scenic designer for “Dutchman” is Mark Pirolo and lighting designer is Norman Coates; both are at NCSA. “They’re building it at shops in the school now,” LaCosse says. “It’s a convenience to have the whole design team here. I can go over to Mark’s studio or walk across the street to the lighting designer. It’s good to have all the players in one town.”
“The Flying Dutchman” breaks an artistic barrier not only for Princeton Festival and central New Jersey, but also for director LaCosse. This is his first Wagner opera and it has a special personal meaning for him, he explains. “When I was in high school, I became editor of the high school yearbook through a fluke. So I went to journalism camp at the University of Indiana in Bloomington to learn how to do it. They were putting on ‘The Flying Dutchman’ while I was there. I bought a ticket and sat in the third balcony in the last row. If I close my eyes I can remember sitting in that seat and watching and everything about it. When they started singing I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do — become an opera singer.’ Until then I thought that I was going to become a choir director. What pushed me into becoming a singer is the first Wagner opera I am directing.”
Princeton Festival. Saturday, June 8, through Sunday, June 30, Individual events $20-$125. www.princetonfestival.org or 609-759-0379.
Free lecture series:
“The Premiere of ‘Der fliegende Hollander’ and its Scandalous Cast,” James Camner. Mary Jacobs Library, Rocky Hill. Wednesday, June 5, 7 p.m.
“Over and Under the Stormy Seas,” Marianne Grey. Tuesday, June 11, 7 p.m., Princeton Public Library. Thursday, June 27, 7 p.m., Lawrence Library.
“Music for Stormy Seas and Souls,” Timothy Urban. Saturday, June 15, 3 p.m., West Windsor Library. Monday, June 17, 7 p.m., Princeton Public Library.
“Stormy Soul: How did Wagner find his Muse?” Jeffrey Swann. Princeton Public Library. Sunday, June 30, 11 a.m.