Saturday, 5 July 2014

The blood runs redly

Bartók, ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’, and Janáček's ‘Sinfonietta’ (CBSO, Edward Gardner, Symphony Hall)

Bartók's only opera is the one-act Bluebeard's Castle which was performed by The CBSO on Wednesday, preceded by Janáček's Sinfonietta.

Those familiar from the traditional tale told in street literature will note the extent to which Judith's betrayal of Bluebeard's trust is played down, and she is presented as a victim of curiosity. The music races, and so does your pulse. Then in a few words, Judith's life is snuffed out: you were the most beautiful. Almost literally heart-stopping music, so thrilled were the audience, a pin could have been heard dropping.  

It might be better thought of as a tone poem with singing; it presents a series of vignettes, hidden behind doors. A macabre advent calendar.  A mound of bloody riches beyond even Alberich's wildest dreams, lakes of tears, are brought to life.  

The music and singing were beyond fault. A curiosity was that libretto was included in the programme in addition to surtitles. Yet they presented different translations. One wasn't especially superior to the other, but I felt the libretto had he edge, and followed this.

The most striking thing was the beautiful, beautiful silence for sixty seconds at the end. As the Bártok came to an uncertain end, Gardner kept up his arms sufficiently high to keep the audience shtum - pieces often need a few moments, few more than this one. The horror of what just happened needed to hit. And how.

The couple here were wonderful singers and whilst not staged, they sang without scores. Michelle de young was the unfortunate bride and hot new bass Gábor Bretz sang Bluebeard with sufficient complexity to leave the audience a little unsure and still guessing about him.

The Sinfonietta was performed perfectly, without being too loud; indeed one could hardly hope for better.   

Overall: killing her softly, with his words

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