Bard SummerScape 2011 Presents The Wild Duck (1884), Henrik Ibsen’s Tragicomic Masterpiece (July 13–24)

The ninth annual Bard SummerScape presents The Wild Duck (“Vildanden”), a masterpiece of poetic realism by the father of modern drama, Henrik Ibsen. Considered by many to be the Norwegian dramatist’s finest and most complex work, The Wild Duck (1884) was described by George Bernard Shaw as combining “profound tragedy” with “irresistible comedy.” The new production from returning young Irish director Caitriona McLaughlin, who staged last season’s acclaimed Judgment Day, will be presented in David Eldridge’s celebrated new translation, in ten performances between July 13 and 24. These will take place in Theater Two of the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on Bard College’s bucolic Hudson River campus.

The great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) is the second most widely produced dramatist in the world, eclipsed only by Shakespeare; thanks to works like Peer Gynt, A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, and The Wild Duck, he is widely credited with introducing modernism to the theater. This year’s Bard Music Festival, on whose theme, as in previous seasons, SummerScape is based, presents “Sibelius and His World,” celebrating the life and works of Ibsen’s fellow Scandinavian, the preeminent Finnish symphonist Jean Sibelius. Despite belonging to an earlier generation, Ibsen anticipated and embraced the modernist movement to which the composer remained resistant. Yet Sibelius was not unaware of Ibsen’s work, which was in vogue and influential in Helsinki by the time the Finn moved there in 1885. There are moreover parallels between Ibsen’s work and Sibelius’s own; as cultural historian and Scandinavian specialist Paul Binding observes: “To [Sibelius] the symphony was a humanist document, analogous perhaps to the dramas of Ibsen.”

Commonly hailed as “the master’s masterpiece,” The Wild Duck was written at the height of the dramatist’s career and, in blending the naturalism of his middle dramas with the symbolism of his late period, marked something of a departure. It portrays the tragic consequences visited by the truth-seeking impulses of its protagonist – Gregers Werle, the idealistic son of a successful but duplicitous businessman – upon the family of his childhood friend, whose peaceful existence is founded on a tissue of lies. This enables Ibsen to posit the notion that people depend on their illusions to get by: that absolute truth can be too much for the human heart to bear or, as the play’s Dr. Relling would have it, “Deprive the average man of his vital lie and you rob him of happiness.”

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