Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

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):