[Met Performance] CID:295170
Bluebeard's Castle {14}
Erwartung {2}
Metropolitan Opera House: 01/20/1989.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 20, 1989
In English


BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE {14}
Bartók-Balázs

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

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


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

Translation by Chester Kallman

ERWARTUNG {2}
Schoenberg-Pappenheim

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

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

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


Review of Martin Mayer in Opera Magazine (UK)

Göran Järvefelt's direction of Bartók's "Bluebeard's Castle" at the Metropolitan Opera gives us a Judith who feels triumphant about the catch she has made and contemptuous of those in her family who tried to prevent the marriage. She sweeps grandly into the castle and, at first, just wants to open the windows and let in a little light and air. Once the first door opens on to the torture chamber, she can't stop-and Bluebeard, his excitement mounting as he reveals the beauty and extent of his tormented dominions, finds he has gone too far to deny her the revelations that will doom them both. Jessye Norman's regal presence cannot quite execute this scenario, because the passionate involvement with her husband is missing. So Samuel Ramey gradually strips to the waist, which does not take care of the problem. This all takes place in an oversized mausoleum with sweating marble walls and canted floor, which friends upstairs told me reflected entirely too much light.

We have now done with carping. The performance on January 20 of this famously difficult 80-year-old piece was the best in my experience, thanks to James Levine's and his orchestra's ability to distil all the beauty from this splendidly beautiful score, to Norman's mastery of vocal coloration through a range of almost two octaves, and to Ramey's all-round vocal and dramatic virtuosity. The work was done in English, in Chester Kallman's highly singable translation, and both characters articulated well enough to keep the audience in touch, very important in a work that is all talk and symbol, with almost no action. The images of what lay beyond the doors were of varied quality, the best being the treasure that turned bloody (from which Ramey plucked a wondrous shower of gold) and the lake of tears that reflected on to the walls. One missed the burst of light that is in the music when the door opened (here, an entire wall leaned open) on to the sunlit countryside. Still, the staging offers a variety that is undoubtedly a plus for this static opera.

The Met linked Bluebeard with a staging of "Erwartung," Norman as the unhinged heroine. Schoenberg's description of the piece as a nightmare probably excuses setting it within the same marble walls as Bluebeard, with candles and red leaves on the canted ground, plus an ornate turn-of-the-century grand piano and some early modernist chairs and a couch constructed of very thin black sticks. But, given the marginal stageworthiness of the work (the arrival and departure of the lover's dead body are all that happens), something more involving or less distracting would have made sense. And much as one admires Norman for learning the piece and singing it as a full-bodied romantic work, her old-fashioned acting habits do not help with what is (unlike Bartók) a pretty dated illustration of Krafft-Ebing.



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