[Met Performance] CID:295130
Metropolitan Opera Premiere (Erwartung)
New Production (Bluebeard's Castle)
Bluebeard's Castle {13}
Erwartung {1}
Metropolitan Opera House: 01/16/1989.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debuts: Göran Järvefelt, Hans Schavernoch, Lore Haas

Metropolitan Opera House
January 16, 1989
New Production

in English

Bluebeard...............Samuel Ramey
Judith..................Jessye Norman

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Göran Järvefelt [Debut]
Set designer............Hans Schavernoch [Debut]
Costume designer........Lore Haas [Debut]
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Translation by Chester Kallman

Bluebeard's Castle received ten performances this season.

Metropolitan Opera Premiere

In German

The Woman...............Jessye Norman

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Göran Järvefelt
Set designer............Hans Schavernoch
Costume designer........Lore Haas
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Erwartung received ten performances this season.

Production gift of The Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Fund for Lincoln Center

Review of Peter Goodman in Newsday

Bold Duet at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera, which has been under increasing fire for lack of adventurousness in programming and increasing mediocrity in its casts, unveiled bold improvement in both areas Monday night. The company mounted a new double bill, joining Bartok's two-character drama, "Bluebeard's Castle," not seen at the Met since 1975, with its premiere performance of Schoenberg's monodrama, "Erwartung" ("Expectation"). Dating from 1911 and 1909 respectively, these are two difficult, grim, unusually challenging works, powerful examples of the wealth of music created from the turn of the 20th Century to the beginning of World War I. It's hard to imagine a company such as the Met presenting these works without an extraordinarily important cast, and so it was: Jessye Norman sang the unnamed woman of "Erwartung" and Judith in the Bartok, opposite Samuel Ramey. Musically and dramatically, the result was all that one could hope: tremendous, expressive vocalism in the service of art, not mere display.

"Bluebeard's Castle" is the more substantial of the two in length and comprehensibility. A setting of the Perrault fairy tale by Bela Balazs (here performed in Charles Kallman's appropriate English translation), it was written in 1911 but not performed until 1918. Balazs and Bartok filled their opera, about an insatiably curious woman and a grimly secretive man, with undercurrents arising from the newly emergent work of Freud. Bartok's music, already steeped in the scales and harmonies of Eastern European folk music, may have been alien to the ears of his contemporaries. But now, more than 70 years later, it is exceptionally expressive and flexible, eminently capable of providing aural blueprints for the tormented minds of the two characters. And Norman and Ramey, each in wonderful voice and unusual clarity of diction and performance, enacted the tale with riveting strength.

"Erwartung" is a more difficult work to convey successfully - particularly when sung in German after the Bartok's English. Marie Pappenheim's libretto is an enigmatic, elliptic narration by a woman who searches for her lover in a dark wood. Full of dread and anxiety, she finds his corpse but it is not clear whether she herself murdered him. Schoenberg's music, not yet 12-tone, is still highly compressed, alternating between jagged hysteria and a sickly lyricism. Norman, lurching and wavering across the stage, conveyed an incomprehensible terror and dread.

Both productions were staged by Swedish director Goran Jarvefelt, Austrian set designer Hans Schavernoch, and Viennese costume designer Lore Haas, all making their Met debuts.

Schavernoch placed the action of "Bluebeard's Castle" within a huge room with walls of shining gray marble squares. Bluebeard, first seen standing on a black podium, gradually shed cape, cloak, coat, even black leonine wig, becoming more vulnerable and animal as the work progressed. Judith wore a black and red cloak. Jarvefelt emphasized the sexual nature of the conflict: Bluebeard reluctantly giving up his secrets before Judith's increasingly domineering questioning, until finally she strips him bare - to one that she has lost her own freedom.

"Erwartung" was within the same walls, this time with red-leaved trees and a stage floor covered with candles and on one side a grand piano with candelabra, a civilized world gone mad. Indeed, the music of the first 15 years of the century was prescient: It foretold a civilization that did go mad for the next 50 years. And here we were, in uncertain safety on the other side, looking at exceptional performances of the warnings

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