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 Performances

Anna Nicole, back with a bang ! Turnage, Royal Opera House, London

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain. And, if the second half of the programme - 20th-century American classics with the odd folky diversion - did feel a little like a prolonged encore (which was followed by three further suavely delivered numbers complete with mischievous banter and musical high-jinks), this did not lessen the musical and theatrical accomplishment or the evident delight of the Wigmore Hall audience, although I confess to feeling a bit of a sugar-rush …

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Bela Bartok in bronze sculpture by Hungarian Andras Beck
05 Jun 2012

Bluebeard’s Castle, New World Symphony

“I can guess what you are hiding.
Bloodstain on your warrior’s weapons.
Blood upon your crown of glory.
Red the soil around your flowers.
Red the shade your cloud was throwing.
Now I know it all, oh, Bluebeard.”

Béla Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle; Quartet No. 6 for Strings, BB 119 (1939)

Judith: Michelle DeYoung; Duke Bluebeard: Eric Halfvarson. New World Symphony. Nick Hillel, director. Jeannette Jang and Vivek Jayaraman, violin; Anthony Parce, viola; David Meyer, cello. Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor.

Above: Bela Bartok in bronze sculpture by Hungarian Andras Beck

 

Judith’s soliloquy builds up to be both a précis of Bela Bartok’s opera and the anticipating tableaux announcing entrance to the seventh and final door to Bluebeard’s Castle. What awaits on the other side?

Librettist Bela Balazs described the words he wrote over Bartok’s music as “the ballad of inner life” and the castle as Bluebeard’s soul. Neither Bartok nor Balazs fail to intrigue — on the other side of that final door, a secret, a mystery. The opera leaves the audience wondering what just happened.

Such is life.

Balazs’ look at the Bluebeard legend is open to greater analysis than the essay of its origins, from a series of fairy tales written by Charles Perrault. Perrault’s creation has facial hair that literally comes out blue. The staying power of children’s stories seems to be bound to this very interpretive unobtrusiveness, for kids to dance in and for adults to play with cloaked meanings.

Today’s reader might be startled by the period-typical gore and terror of Perrault’s Bluebeard, the type whose pages could be torn from a Stephen King novel. Perrault’s story of an old curmudgeon Duke drips blood — corpses hang from hooks, decapitation is considered, murder lurks behind every castle door. This can read as quite monstrous, writing geared for little eyes and ears as it is. Balazs’ version leaves more to the imagination — definitely more Hitchcockian.

Bartok’s Bluebeard tills fertile creative ground for all involved in its production. At its “new laboratory” in Miami Beach, New World Symphony’s performance (on April 27th) took firm root in the theme of gender roles and how men and women come at love. The producers also played with the seedlings of mystery that permeate the work.

American bass Eric Halfvarson took Balazs’ “joyless” Bluebeard to a place male personified, instrumental in communication style, proud (Perrault describes him as with “a heart harder than any stone”) in temperament, with time on his side. Halfvarson reached all of these angles — in the way he turned away from Judith with up-turned nose (credit also to director Nick Hillel), in calling on the force of his voice to surge with the orchestra at the precipice to door five, and in the directness of the bass’ delivery, communicating in crumbs as Bluebeard does.

Halfvarson’s Bluebeard flexes his kingdom and might; he broods, avoiding memories that wound his spirit and using stonewalling artfully — the bass’ pleas for Judith to “stop asking questions” were teasingly unconvincing. Halfvarson turned lines like ”stop asking questions” and “stones of sorrow thrill with rapture” into gender-line crossing come-hither taunts. The bass made other moments with Judith intimate. Halfvarson highlighted Bluebeard’s own questioning and searching.

Michigander Mezzo Michelle DeYoung, of the potent middle register required for this music — a quality that has won DeYoung some of the heaviest assignments in classical vocal music — lent more than a hint of despair to a Judith that Balazs wrote to be hopeful and inquisitive, the “tend and befriend” careful nurturer. DeYoung capably expressed Judith’s determination to bring warmth and light to Bluebeard’s world, left out as she feels from it.

DeYoung projected an air of wonderment, a tense-filled moment, in telling of the vastness of Bluebeard’s kingdom. Judith wants Bluebeard’s castle rooms “unfastened” and flown open. Bluebeard’s castle trembles at the prospect. Judith reassures with “I’ll never leave you,” read tenderly by DeYoung.

At the threshold to that final door, Judith intuits that the light (from which she must shield her eyes at one point), the color, the signs of richness in Bluebeard’s castle point to a woman, or women: “tell me whom you loved before me.” DeYoung worked a fine characterization as Judith, a soul also searching.

Both Halfvarson and DeYoung communicated their respective characters’ search for meaning. Bluebeard does this through acquisitions, fortifying his castle. Judith does this by looking into Bluebeard, the rooms in his castle. “Give me another key,” Judith begs. Balazs seems to take the audience to the possible conclusion that meaning in life is found by living it. Expect no answers. Balazs takes the audience through the natural course of a human problem: searching in mystery.

This production, in its U.S. premiere, played very close to that heart, utilizing the New World Symphony’s new space and its multiple-angled walls to project (slides from Rite Digital in association with Yeast Culture) a mix of images calling on elements of the castle: water droplets, gears, spikes and sprockets, pin-needles poking through cloth, assembly-line munitions, shadows of Bluebeard’s wives dancing and posing, and lathery crimson in droves — drips and splashes.

Video dragomen Hillel, Nick Corrigan (co-director and VJ) and Richard Slaney (producer) kept things mysterious down to other details — DeYoung and Halfvarson, on the upper deck over the orchestra stage and just under the main wall slides, wore concert black — her in gown, him in evil-genius outfit and cape. The role of narrator, a mysterious sort in its own right that opens the opera and then vanishes, was read — in sight but from the wings — with leathery and seasoned voice by actor/photographer George Schiavone. Schiavone was also in informal black.

These types of subtleties worked into Balazs’ text and with Bartok’s music. Micheal Tilson Thomas’ movements were more measured at the stick, even for the huge and spacious sound — making it feel like the room was getting smaller — created by the orchestra at full throttle at castle door five. MTT trembled along with the castle.

The playing of NWS was of its usual fire and some flair; if not as successful with the mystery of Bartok’s writing (through the second door, in music reminiscent of Turandot’s riddle scene, the overall musical space tended towards stiff) instrumentalists kept the musical line tight enough to carry interest through musical transitions and to assert the Hungarian composer’s genius. The playing also failed to capture the folksiness, the Hungarian gypsy colors of this work. Instrumentalists did better with the bi-tonal and technical aspects in Bluebeard, as well as in supporting the distinctiveness of the “blood motive.”

A lot of 20th century music gets flack for excesses blamed on composers jumping on the bandwagon of atonality. Bartok’s only opera does less to connect him to this movement than do many of his other works. His Quartet No. 6 for Strings firmly places Bartok in this period while also putting him in a class apart altogether. The dissonance is there; the irregular beats, entrances, and changes are there; in this music, there is at center a strong sense of the elegiac, the pastoral, as well.

In a nice marrying of works, the quartet preceded the opera in concert. The work of the young players was on the mark if missing elegance at times. Violinist Jeanette Jang summoned power when necessary and held a disciplined and steady finishing note to the first movement. The stridency of movement two, requiring sharp cuts at bows but easier in terms of unison playing, was a good showing. The third movement, with its faint and curious echoing of the Psycho theme and Rhapsody in Blue, held up well. For the final movement, the NWS quartet (Vivek Jayaraman at violin, Anthony Parce at viola, and David Meyer at cello) assembled here handled the volume shifts — in a section that holds no little mystery to it.

What of the mystery of Duke Bluebeard and the “whispered rumors” that ruminate throughout his castle? What is behind that door? Who are the narrator, the Duke, Judith, and orchestra and MTT? What is the music? What just happened? What is the meaning of all this?

Such is life.

Robert Carreras

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):