Bluebeard's Castle: Opening Seven Locked Doors

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Bluebeard.jpg"Don't Go There" could well be the subtitle of this production by Seattle Opera of Bela Bartok's one-act opera, composed in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the first days of a new, post-Wagnerian musical order. Onstage, the proscenium is surrounded by a Klimt-like gilt frame; in the pit, an orchestra of 100 musicians play harsh, unfamiliar tones without melody.

Bluebeard (John Relyea) and his new bride Judith (Malgorzata Walewska) explore his dark castle and its seven locked rooms. Each door is opened in a different key and musical mode, so there's no tune to hum as you leave the theater. The lyrics are sung in Hungarian, not the most melodious of languages, and Bartok's music is clearly beyond the familiarity of most opera-goers, so you might expect the audience to bristle. But the production, created for the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, has been around for nearly 20 years, and--though new to Seattle--it no longer seems shocking.

What's surprising, though, is now easily you can plug in the black boxes of modern politics into the locked rooms of Bartok's imagination. A torture chamber? Guantanamo. An armory? Blackwater. A treasure-chamber, filled with unimaginable riches but drenched in blood? Wall Street. A garden? The promise of green energy. Bluebeard's vast lands, covered in blood? Global warming. The Lake of Tears? Our current depression.

When Judith finally reaches the final door and finds Bluebeard's former wives, dressed in red and not really dead, she joins them with wordless resignation. Bluebeard's line closes the opera: "Now there will be eternal darkness." A note of pessimism, to be sure, but of soul-cleansing catharsis, too.

And this, ultimately, is why we must pay attention. Art isn't just entertainment, it's a mental and emotional obstacle course that challenges our comfort zone. The rewards are immensely satisfying.

Mustn't forget: there's a second part to this Seattle Opera program, a short opera by Arnold Schoenberg called Erwartung ("Expectation" or "Anticipation"). A distraught woman, sung by Susan Marie Pierson), searches for her lover in a forest. She finds him in flagrante with his mistress and kills him. At least, that's what she thinks. But...she's in a straight-jacket and singing to her psychiatrist. Is she imagining the whole thing? Dude really is nekkid, though. All very Freudian, at any rate.

Seattle Opera presents Bluebeard's Castle (and Erwartung) at McCaw Hall through March 7th. Tickets $25 and up, 206-389-7676 or online. Seattle Opera photo © Rosarii Lynch.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on February 23, 2009 11:30 AM.

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