Fathom Events' "Iolanta" & "Bluebeard's Castle": Slavic Fables & Femmes Fatales

The Metropolitan Opera's "Bluebeard's Castle" & "Iolanta"
(photo montage: Paul Pelkonen)

The Metropolitan Opera's latest HD broadcast is a dual bill of Tchaikovsky's “Iolanta” and Béla Bartók's “Bluebeard's Castle”, a fascinating combo to say the least. While it may not endure as long as “Cav/Pag” has, it's an original approach to presenting these two works. The former is a fable with a libretto (by Modest Tchaikovsky) based on a play by Henrik Hertz, while the latter is a horror story with a libretto (by Béla Balázs) based on a fairy tale by Charles Perrault. Together they present a compelling presentation of contrasts, and a welcome diversion from the more familiar opera repertoire.

The first opera, “Iolanta”, is the story of a young blind girl (soprano Anna Netrebko), daughter of King René (bass Ilya Bannik). She is living in seclusion with the peasant couple Marta (mezzo Mzia Nioradze) and Bertrand (bass Matt Boehler). The king wishes to spare Iolanta, and her betrothed Duke Robert (baritone Alexei Markov) the realization that she is blind. She believes eyes are simply for crying. Alméric (tenor Keith Jameson) announces the arrival of the king and the Moorish Doctor Ibn-Hakia (baritone Elchin Azizov) who insists she must be told of her affliction before a cure can be tried. Duke Robert and Vaudémont (tenor Piotr Beczala) arrive, and Robert is unnerved by his surroundings, while Vaudémont falls for Iolanta and asks for a red rose; when she gives him a white one, he becomes aware of her lack of sight. The king overhears Vaudémont explaining to Iolanta about her blindness, and angrily declares if the treatment doesn't cure her, he will have Vaudémont killed. She is cured and the king consents to her marriage to Vaudémont. Iolanta can't believe that those she loves look the way they do, but her love for him, and the wedding ceremony itself, subdue her fears. And that's about the silliest, most laughably absurd opera libretto you're ever apt to encounter. Thankfully, it's filled with glorious music, gloriously sung here by the entire cast, especially Netrebko, Markov and Beczala, not to mention the Met Opera Chorus.

In the second opera, Judith (soprano Nadja Michael) has come to live with Bluebeard (bass Mikhail Petrenko), despite the terrifying rumors about him, believing her love will transform him and his gloomy castle. She demands that the doors to seven rooms be opened. They contain a torture chamber, an armory, a treasury, a garden, his bloody empire, a sea of tears, and the final room, a space beyond life on the border of life and death, with his previous wives. Judith walks through the seventh door and joins them as part of Bluebeard's space forever, as the circle of her journey closes. Both singers were in great form, with a difficult, demanding, and ultimately rewarding score.

Both operas were expertly conducted by Valery Gergiev, with the Production by Mariusz Trelinski, and Director Gary Halvorson at the HD helm, aided by Choreographer Tomasz Wygoda, Set Design by Boris Kudlicka, Costume Design by Marek Adamski, Lighting Design (as is typical of the Met, too dimly lit) by Marc Heinz, Projection Design by Bartek Macias, and Sound Design by Mark Grey.

No matter what mood you're in, at least one (if not both) of these works will appeal.The HD broadcast will be repeated this coming Wednesday February 18th at 6:30pm at a theater near you.

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