Friday, 16 June 2006

More opera

Last night we went to the Royal Opera House to see their double bill of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung. It was the 2nd to last performance and Christine Rice had taken over from Petra Lang as Judith. Also, Angela Denoke was ill so Virginia Kerr had taken over.

Kirill Petrenko conducted and from the hushed opening notes of the orchestra, the sound was spine tingling. The double bill opened with the Bartok and producer Willy Decker had included the spoken prologue, read in hushed tones by Katalin Bogyay.

The setting was a dark space, a series of doors along the left hand side, a distressed wall to the right and the stage covered in detritus including a huge chandelier, as if Bluebeard’s whole life had collapsed around him. Rice, as Judith, does not have the big, dark voice that you might expect but she is a passionate singer and Petrenko accompanied sensitively. This was definitely not a blast it out type performance both Rice and Albert Dohmen delivered subtle, nuanced performances.

Willy Decker’s handling of the action was generally metaphorical rather than real, but effective nonetheless. His biggest coup was when Judith sees Bluebeard’s whole realm, the great C major episode, the side walls moved to further apart and the dark rear wall turned into a huge glowing disc. Not sure what it meant but it looked v. good. Then when she opened the final door, the door was a huge one at the back of the stage and Bluebeard’s 3 wives appeared all wearing variants of Judith’s red dress (rather a 50’s style number). Each wife a different age, the first the oldest. They stood, in a stylised manner, at the back of the stage looking v. elegant and for all the world like a Norman Parkinson photograph. Whether or not Decker or his designer, John Macfarlane, are familiar with Parkinson’s work I don’t know.

For the 2nd half of the double bill the stage set had changed subtly and suggested that we were still in Bluebeard’s domain, perhaps beyond the door. The woman appeared dressed in the same dress as Judith and the whole of Schoenberg’s drama, whether it is happening in reality or just in the woman’s head, made sense as a sort of follow up to the events in Bartok’s opera.

All in all a very satisfying evening. The opera house was not terribly busy, which was a shame but as England were playing it was perhaps not surprising.

On a follow up note to my review of the Chelsea Opera Group I Puritani on Saturday (which appeared on Music and Vision), I should note that Judith Howarth had not sung the role of Elivira before. She had sung the mad scene and learned the rest of the opera in under 2 weeks. Impressive going and I look forward to hearing her again in the role.

Tomorrow we're off to the opera again, to Grange Park to see Donizetti's L'elisir d'Amore, let's hope that the weather is kind.

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