Bartók’s scary ‘Duke Bluebeard’ comes to Davies Hall 

click to enlarge Béla Bartók’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” is yet another modern opera filling The City’s performance halls this summer. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Béla Bartók’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” is yet another modern opera filling The City’s performance halls this summer.

Béla Bartók’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” is yet another modern opera filling The City’s performance halls this summer.  

Directed by Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony is presenting a semi-staged version of the challenging, rewarding work at Davies Symphony Hall this week in a program also featuring Jeremy Denk performing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

While John Adams’ “Nixon in China,” onstage next door at the War Memorial Opera House in a San Francisco Opera production, is 25 years old, “Bluebeard” was written a century ago.

Still, “Bluebeard,” which hasn’t been performed in The City for more than 30 years, is thrilling “new” music. The powerful and memorable opera has shocking dissonances, great drama and deep psychological impact.

MTT describes the work as “tense, terrifying and ultimately thrilling.” He says, “Bartók uses the orchestra to great effect as a kind of third character, commenting as the story unfolds and more and more of Bluebeard’s secrets are revealed.”

Based on a French fairy tale by Charles Perrault (author of “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty”), “Bluebeard” is a story for adults about a mysterious duke, Bluebeard (portrayed by bass Alan Held), who brings his new bride home to his castle.

As Judith (mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung) explores her surroundings, and takes measure of her husband, she finds herself trapped, unable to escape from the consequences of knowing too much.

The chain of episodes leads from the castle’s torture chamber to the armory, treasury, garden, a view of Bluebeard’s kingdom (with a majestic outburst of music), a pool of tears and a surprise beyond the final door.

The production, which is co-directed by filmmaker Nick Hillel and features projections by Adam Wiltshire, was co-commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra, Konzerthaus Dortmund and Gulbenkian Foundation. MTT’s New World Symphony in Miami also has presented it.

José Maria Condemi, who is staging the local “Bluebeard,” calls it “theater of the mind. I cannot think of more juicy, interesting material to stage, particularly with the use of these enhanced video projections.”

IF YOU GO
Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
Presented by San Francisco Symphony
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Tickets: $35 to $145
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Bio:
Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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