Saturday, June 23, 2012

MTT Conducts Bartók’s Bluebeard's Castle

Davies Hall, 06.22.2012 Stage set for Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle in subscription performance by San Francisco Symphony.The short 1st half of Friday night's San Francisco Symphony concert was Liszt's Piano Concerto No 1. with Jeremy Denk as soloist. Mr. Denk had a loose & spontaneous approach, & he plopped deep into the keys, even if he did not hit all the notes. The music had an episodic feel, & I liked the clean, simple sound of the clarinet solos.

The main event was a semi-staged version of Bartók's opera Bluebeard's Castle. Tall angled walls surrounded the orchestra, & a sculpture of irregular polygons with sharp corners hung over the stage. The performance began with actor Ken Ruta delivering a spoken prologue from the side terrace. The singers then appeared on a platform behind the orchestra & gave full acting performances. Mezzo Michelle DeYoung has a powerful, earthy & thrilling voice. She was a brave & mature Judith. Bass-baritone Alan Held was a stern & authoritarian Bluebeard, &, up until the end, it could have been a battle of equals.

Moving images were projected onto multiple planes of the set & the overhead sculpture, which turned out to be in 4 parts that moved. The bold but simple imagery included closeups of water drops, flowers, rope, gears & of course many blood stains. Bluebeard's former wives appeared on film as billowy silhouettes. In the opera's biggest climax, the entire hall was lit up, & the blaring pipes of the Ruffatti organ were brightly illuminated. Supertitles were projected on either side of the stage.

MTT was kept very busy directing the constant ebb & flow of orchestral colors. Even though there were a lot of brass players, they made a controlled, soft-edged sound & never overwhelmed the singers or the rest of the orchestra. Bartók's eerie music plus the cinematic staging gave the event the feel of a classic horror film. The opera ends in an unearthly silence, but someone wrecked that by immediately whistling in appreciation. The audience gave the singers a standing ovation, & 2 members of the production team also took bows.

§ MTT Conducts Bartók’s Bluebeard's Castle
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major
Jeremy Denk, piano

Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Opus 11
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
Alan Held, bass-baritone
Ken Ruta, speaker

Nick Hillel, director
Nick Corrigan, co-director, video & visual design
Jose Maria Condemi, staging
Richard Slaney, producer
David Holmes, lighting design
Adam Wiltshire, set design

Fri, Jun 22, 2012 at 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall


sfmike said...

When the irregular polygons separated, they looked disconcertingly like the top of the Transamerica Pyramid had exploded. I'd been avoiding the giggles over some of the imagery and the weird, sick libretto for most of the evening, but when those babies separated, it became even more absurdist. The music sure was great, though.

Axel Feldheim said...

I always thought that the executive washroom was in tip of the Transamerica Pyramid, but now I know it's where Bluebeard keeps his extra wives!

The opera came across as campy and Gothic to me. Maybe it was seeing it with those videos. It did sound like movie music, though.