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Bartók and Schoenberg at Covent Garden

There are quite a few loose ends from my survey of interesting opera around the world from last season. Reviews are trickling in for the fabulous double-bill offered by the Royal Opera at Covent Garden this weekend: Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Schoenberg's Erwartung (May 26 to June 17). We start with a review by Andrew Clements (Duke Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung, May 29) for The Guardian:

The two one-act masterpieces of early modernism have become a standard operatic double-bill. They make a logical pairing, but it's usually Erwartung, Schoenberg's soprano monodrama, that is performed first, providing a fiercely concentrated preface to Bartok's more expansive two-hander. Willy Decker's Covent Garden staging, revived for the first time, reverses that order and, by using the same setting for both, convincingly makes the expressionist Erwartung the nightmarish consequence of Duke Bluebeard's Castle's dark-hued symbolism.

So the protagonist in the Schoenberg wears a tattered version of the red dress that the parade of Bluebeard's wives had all sported, and emerges through the same door that had shut them away from the world at the end of the Bartok. The unnamed woman is, Decker's production suggests, a refugee from that claustrophobic world; perhaps a wife (perhaps like, as Maeterlinck suggested, Debussy's Melisande was) who had escaped from its horrors and was seeking catharsis. The silent man who stalks her in this production (played by Barry Callan), and whom she repeatedly stabs, may be Bluebeard, but equally he may be some other totally innocent victim who is only guilty of being male.
Second, we have Richard Morrison (Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung, May 27) for The Sunday Times:
At the end of Bluebeard, Judith — the wife with the fatal need to peel away her husband’s psyche and reveal the murderer within — is dragged away, seemingly for ever, through the seventh door. But, at the start of Erwartung, recognisably the same red-frocked character emerges, but now mentally unhinged and stalked by a seedy old man who is, equally clearly, Bluebeard’s doppelgänger. And she proceeds to turn the tables on him, very painfully. Even the musical transition works. Bartók’s spooky, ominously glinting score — its pentatonic contours continually poisoned by insidious dissonances, just as Bluebeard’s castle walls continually drip with blood — seems to find its natural sequel in Schoenberg’s jittery, hyper-tense atonality.
Finally, there is Dominic McHugh (Double Bill: Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung, May 26) for
Albert Dohmen is the embodiment of Bluebeard, a very imposing figure on the stage whose mental agony is astoundingly vivid. What really sticks in the memory, however, is his voice, which is a beautiful, true bass-baritone that reaches to the centre of the low notes and shines lyrically at the top.

His physical engagement with Judit is remarkable: at different points, the two writhe about the stage, stand in confrontation and cannot bear to look at one another. It's great to have so intelligent a singer-actor paired with so apt a female counterpart: Petra Lang adds yet another impressive role to her Royal Opera repertoire, breathing life into the music and believably standing up to even so immense a Bluebeard as Dohmen. There's a huge shift of focus in the opera, from Judit's domination of the opening of the doors to the final, anguished monologue for Bluebeard; both singers give each other space to shine, and the curtain fell on the opening night to a huge cheer.
This is a revival of the 2002 production at Covent Garden. I am looking forward to seeing Duke Bluebeard's Castle next season at Washington National Opera, sadly paired not with Erwartung but inexplicably with Gianni Schicchi.

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1 comment:

Garth Trinkl said...

I would have preferred the Washington National Opera's upcoming production of 'Duke Bluebeard's Castle' to have been paired neither with 'Gianni Schicchi' nor 'Erwartung', but with Karol Szymanowski 'Król Roger' ('King Roger'). That reasonable pairing, in my opinion, would have placed Washington D.C. momentarily in the center of the opera universe.