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