Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Clive Bayley as Duke Bluebeard and Michaela Martens as Judith [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of English National Opera]
10 Nov 2009

Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at ENO

This grueling production of Bartok’s operatic masterpiece, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, clearly did not set out to retain any of the ambiguity and mystery of the fairytale which inspired it.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Bluebeard: Clive Bayley; Judith: Michaela Martens. Director: Daniel Kramer. Conductor: Edward Gardner. English National Opera, Coliseum, London. Friday 6th November 2009.

Double bill with Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring. Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre. Choreographer: Michael Keegan-Dolan.

Above: Clive Bayley as Duke Bluebeard and Michaela Martens as Judith [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of English National Opera]

 

Perhaps it’s a question of the difference between terror and horror? Should you aim to make your audience feel the evil, to imagine the chilling frisson of fear or pain; or should you force evermore gory excesses straight down their throats until they’re practically choking with nausea? Director Daniel Kramer clearly believed that unless shock followed blow followed repulsion, we might miss the point of this production … which was, presumably, to show that we live in gothic times, to paraphrase Angela Carter, whose own fabulous take on the myth, the short story ‘The Bloody Chamber’, is enriched by an ironic subversion entirely absent here.

What lies behind Bluebeard’s seven closed doors is a mystery, albeit one cloaked in disquieting rumour and dread. But the only moment of mystery and wonder in this production occurred in the opening filme noire ‘preface’: a single street lamp cast a mournful tinge of illumination on a solitary door, an invitation to venture into the unknown, into one’s own psychological darkness. (But, why omit Bartok’s prologue?) Clever use of a revolve whirled a passionate, eager Judith and her unpredictable new husband to the subterranean depths of his black, brooding mansion. Once there, all was revealed: this was a reconstruction of the ‘Amstetten House of Horror’, Josef Fritzl’s ghastly ‘playground’, a place of claustrophobic confinement, sexual cruelty, incestuous rape. And, if we were still in any doubt, the appearance of the family von Trapp, perfectly graded by height and representing Bluebeard’s ‘dominions’, sealed our understanding. It would be unfair to suggest that Kramer believes sexual perversion and pedophilia are peculiarly Austrian problems — Fred West and Jack the Ripper also insinuated their way into the picture — but you get the idea …

‘Bluebeard’, like so many ‘moral tales’, reveals the fatal effects of female curiosity. Here, Judith, performed by American mezzo soprano Michaela Martens, certainly began in Eve-like fashion, clutching passionately at the cold, forbidding Bluebeard. Martens was reliable and convincing, both musically and dramatically, and sang with a directness most fitting for Bartok’s folk-inspired style. Sadly, her articulation of the text was less particular. By contrast, every word of Clive Bayley’s expertly shaped and powerfully projected phrases rang true and clear. This was a wonderful performance; at times Chaplinesque in his self-delusions, elsewhere hinting at a rueful acceptance of his pathological isolation (which revealed the singer’s, if not the director’s, appreciation of the central aspect of the role), Bayley was transformed from unwilling husband to exultant dictator, as the doors which Judith insists on opening divulge the extent of his tyranny and power.

There was, however, little visual magic as the hidden recesses of this twilight world were disclosed; indeed, the whole revelation threatened to grind to a halt, when a stuttering sliding panel shuddered and jolted, requiring a helping hand from Bayley in order to expose a garden of graves. Blood dripped from the walls, Bluebeard raced gleefully about on an appropriately phallic miniature cannon, but it was left to the musical fabric to evoke an aura of ghastly awe and wonder as the ‘glories’ of Bluebeard’s sunken treasuries and torture chambers are laid before us. This was a scintillating reading by Edward Gardner of Bartok’s violent, graphic score — it told us all we needed to know about the psychological landscape before us. Expertly paced, the climaxes were judged to perfection; the blazing nobility of the off-stage brass conjured the dazzling majesty of Bluebeard’s territorial claims, even as the ‘Julie Andrews line-up’ punctured the effect. One could shut one’s eyes and appreciate all the nuances of human behaviour captured by Bartok, from cruelty to joy, from love to loneliness, a palette which was reduced by Kramer to sadism and sensationalism.

Despite these strong vocal and orchestral performances, the accumulation of visual excess eventually became tiresome; no wonder there was a stunned silence after the final tableau — Bluebeard, thrusting a gleaming phallic sword between the splayed legs of three prostrate prostitutes. Bluebeard’s crimes should gnaw at our own fears — that’s the point of Perrault’s seventeenth-century tale, to warn us of the consequences of indulging our darkest urges. But most people don’t imprison their children in sunless dungeons, or maim and murder for sexual gratification, and rather than a sense of unease and restlessness, this production simply left a nasty taste.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):