Monday, June 10, 2002

Duke Bluebeard's Castle & Gianni Schicchi, June 2002

Hi, this is my first-ever post in my shiny new opera blog, but I've been writing reviews for about four and a half years now (intermittently). So I'm going to post those here as well. Enjoy! I might add pictures later, if I can figure out how to do it in a non-blindingly ugly way.

L.A. Opera ended the season this year with a weird double bill of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Gianni Schicchi. It worked OK, I guess, except for the truly lame prologue at the beginning of Bluebeard’s Castle. It was just some actor in a trench coat hanging from the ceiling and using the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen” over and over again. Duke Bluebeard’s Castle isn’t full of weird, over-complicated plot twists or anything, so I don’t see why they needed a prologue. They also changed the ending, which bugged me. I can kind of understand the new ending L.A. Opera commissioned for Turandot, since Puccini actually never finished it, but Bartok did finish Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, and the libretto doesn’t mention Bluebeard killing his wife…it’s kind of left for the audience to decide. But in the L.A. version, he strangles her at the end, and he’s presumably killed all his other wives too, since they were just ghostlike puppet-things. In the real opera, they’re just like beautiful zombies, and Judith goes to join them; there’s no dying involved. The beautiful zombies plot kind of makes me think of “Manos”: The Hands of Fate, which makes me think of Torgo, which makes me giggle incessantly.

I liked the music in Duke Bluebeard’s Castle a lot; I could really hear the influence of Impressionist music on Bartok. Like when Bluebeard opens the door with the treasure, the music sounds like light glinting off of gold and jewels, and when the lake of tears is revealed, the music does sound very watery.

The plot is incredibly repetitive though. It’s like an evil Let’s Make a Deal. Bluebeard brings his new wife home to his creepy-ass castle that’s full of darkness and locked doors. His wife notices that the walls are “weeping” and says she wants to dry them with her kisses. Then she realizes that that isn’t tears or sweat (which are both creepy enough) on the walls…it’s blood. But still she loves Bluebeard and wants to stay. Then she finds seven locked doors, and she demands to see what’s behind them. Bluebeard reluctantly opens the first door, revealing a room full of torture equipment! And as if that weren’t freaky enough, it’s all covered in blood! Judith freaks out, but decides that she still loves Bluebeard, and starts bugging him to open the second door. He says no and begs her to just love him, but finally he gets whipped into opening the second door. And behind Door Number 2…weapons! And they’re covered in blood! Anyway, the same thing keeps happening. Door 3 conceals a room full of treasures…covered in blood. Door 4 opens onto a beautiful garden, covered in…wait for it…blood. Door 5 reveals Bluebeard’s empire, which Judith says is “vast and beautiful”, and I was waiting for her to follow with “but probably covered in blood.” Sure enough, the clouds look like blood. Finally, Bluebeard balks at opening Doors 6 and 7, but Judith again wears him down, probably with her bountiful bosoms. Behind Door 6 is a lake filled with tears. What, no blood? And behind Door 7? Four dead wives! Judith gets in inexplicable inferiority complex, saying the wives (puppets) are more beautiful than she is. So Bluebeard does her a favor…he turns her into a ghost too.

Anyway, enough of that. Sam Ramey totally carried the opera, which has the repetitive plot and not much action. That man could sit onstage and take a great big dump while humming operatic arias, and I’d still pay to see him. Denyce Graves was OK as Judith, but not terribly great. She was mostly just beauty and breasts.

Gianni Schicchi was pretty good. Again, Ramey was fantastic, and it really showed off his versatility going from weird tragedy to comedy in one show. The rest of the cast was fairly weak vocally, and the sets made it hard to hear them when they were downstage. Rolando Villazon was physically funny (how could he not be when he looks so much like Mr. Bean?), although they made Rinuccio a little too comedic; no normal girl would want to marry a guy that goofy. I also didn’t like the way they made Lauretta act. She was totally infantilized, which made it hard to believe that she was of marrying age. But I always like a stump joke, and the one in Gianni Schicchi (“Farewell, Florence, I salute you with my stump!”) makes me chuckle. I imagine the word “stump” might not be so funny if I were an amputee, but since I’m not, it makes me crack up.

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