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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

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):