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Dukas: Ariane et Barbe-Bleue

José van Dam (Barbe-Bleue), Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (Ariane), Patricia Bardon (Nurse), Gemma Coma-Alabert (Sélysette), Beatriz Jiménez (Ygraine), Elena Copons (Mélisande), Salomé Haller (Bellangère) & Alba Valldaura (Alladine) Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Stéphane Denève (conductor) & Claus Guth (director)

Opus Arte - OABD7114D (Blu-ray) Recorded live at Gran Teatre del Liceu, June & July 2011.

This production, seen live in Zurich 2005 *, reached DVD in Barcelona only in 2012.

It was somehow harder to take with the close-ups of DVD filming in the drab modern settings (no jewels etc through the doors) than in the theatre, but ultimately is impressive with the cast equal to that seen at Zurich, especially Charbonnet, who is on stage throughout, and Bardon as her "nurse", whilst Ariane strives to persuade Bluebeard's psychologically traumatised wives to return to the real world with her...

There is however a disjunction between the lush 19th C music and the austere staging, which also contradicts most of the stage directions as summarised in the liner notes.

It manages to be quite moving by the end, with the wives imprisoned in their own problems and unable to risk trying to return with the far more confident Ariane to the world outside and they are tender towards the bruised Bluebeard when he is returned to them bound and at their mercy.

Interesting and certainly worth considering. However, I suspect that for home listening, the CD, reviewed below, may be preferable to some collectors.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also http://theoperacritic.com/tocreviews2.php?review=sl/2011/bcnariane0711.htm

There is a CD version of this haunting opera conducted by Tony Aubin (1968) with Marie-Luce Bellary, Berthe Montmart, Xavier Depraz & Nadine Sautereau etc, available in UK from Codaex UK Ltd [Gala GL.100.721].

The recorded sound of the orchestra shows its age, but the opera is compelling heard again and the singing is fine. There is no text or translation but the note by Andrew Palmer is a useful one.

So are the fill-ups, a disappointing Chabrier rarity La Sulamite and a treasurable account of Ravel's Shéhérazade by Susanne Danco (cond. Ansermet, 1948).


Dukas Ariane et Barbe-bleue

Dukas Ariane et Barbe-bleue
Cheyne Davidson (Barbe-Bleue), Yvonne Naef (Ariane), Liliana Nikiteanu (La Nourrice), Stefania Kaluza, Eva Liebau, Martina Janková, Liuba Chuchrova; Aniko Donáth. Zurich Opera Chorus & Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner

Zurich Opera, January 2005*

Henri Dukas' take on the myth about Bluebeard and his wives is an important opera, entirely new to us, can be seen at Zurich until 13 February.

His rarely seen opera Ariane & Barbe-Bleu (1907) based on the version by Maeterlinck - whose Pelleas and Melisande had proved so fruitful for Debussy - is currently on offer at Zurich Opera, and this is a brief preliminary note to recommend collectors within reach to see Claus Guth's production with the music under the authoritative direction of our English specialist, John Eliot Gardiner.

Do follow the link above for the history of this (usually bloody) tale. But Maeterlinck and Dukas, as Terri Windling explains " - - combines the Bluebeard story with elements from the myth of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur. In this sad, fatalistic version of the tale, Ariane, the last of Bluebeard's brides, attempts to rescue his previous wives and finds them bound by chains of their own making to Bluebeard's castle. - - ".

The production by Christian Schmidt is memorable, with spectacular use of the Opernhaus stage machinery to suggest that the Castle is a nondescript ordinary-looking house in which horrors - which are psychological, not physical - take place secretly. The images are greatly enhanced by lighting and video and the main theme which emerges is institutionalization and fear of freedom after long isolation from normal life. It is an early 20 C expression of feministic aspirations given universality by a neutral setting.

Bluebeard arrives with his new bride. In lieu of a chariot we see the top of a Volvo Estate flitting across the bottom of the video screen, a symbol of middle-class stability and durability! Bluebeard himself has only a brief singing part near the beginning; at the end he is delivered to his victims bruised and bound, but unable to face liberty they tenderly release him and opt to stay safely imprisoned.

arianeUnder Gardiner, Ariane et Barbe-bleue emerges as a masterly example of late romantic opera, Wagner-influenced but very much Dukas's own. The main thrust is the new bride Ariane's determination to crack the secret and her failed efforts to rescue her 'sisters' from their impoverished lifestyle which she discovers.

Hers is a demanding role, needing a Wagnerian voice, and Yvonne Naef does it full justice, supported by her faithful companion Liliana Nikiteanu, who only just succeeds in escaping from the seductive trap of complete dependency, to return with Ariane to the world outside at the last moment.

The institutionalized wives, kept in penury in underground cells, are pictured to suggest deprived inmates of the worst psychiatric or social facilities, twitching with obsessive movements and reverted to childlike dependency, and they fulfil their individuated roles admirably.

Dukas' orchestration is sumptuous and dense, and made an overwhelming impression in Zurich's compact operahouse, notably with the dark timbres of low wind and brass.

A recording by these forces (preferably on DVD) is urgently hoped for *.

This is an important opera, entirely new to us, which can be seen at Zurich until 13 February.


*I have discovered that there is a vocal score of Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (reduction by the composer) in French & English: English translation by Hermann Klein. - Paris : Durand, c1910. M1503.D87 A6

Verdi Nabucco
Paoletta Marrocu (Abigaille), Renato Bruson (Nabucco),Stefania Kaluza, Liuba Chuchrova, Carlo Colombara, Boiko Zvetanov, Guido Götzen. Zurich Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Nello Santi

Zurich Opera, January 2005

We were able fit in also the current revival of Jonathan Miller's 1998 production of Nabucco for Zurich Opera. We found it far less riveting dramatically than the strikingly original David Pountney production at ENO in London Dec/Jan 2000-01.

Nabucco is essentially a metaphorical work about the suppression and hoped for liberation of 'Italian' social and political aspirations. Issues and conflicts of the young Verdi's time are distanced into a fantasy past (biblical times, a kind of history familiar to all sections of the population) so as to focus more clearly on messages pertinent to 19C political evolutions and revolutions.

We found Miller's Zurich staging drab and lifeless six years on. Its allusions to specific cultural forms (e.g. separation of women from men in synagogue) produced a massive clumsy structure which hems in the action. Some of the detail was neither historical (in terms of Babylonian practices) nor necessarily helpful in illuminating the drama. The conflicts are not about which Gods to venerate but about which social and political system to seek; autocratic ancient (or recent) regimes, or an aspiration towards some kind of liberal, self governing political forum.

Those considerations apart, and leaving somewhat in the background the tortuous plot in this, Verdi's first opera, Nabucco made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening, primarily for the responsive Zurich Opera Orchestra and its supreme regular Verdian in charge, the orchestra's favourite and ours, Nello Santi. Placed advantageously above him in the fourth stalls circle box from the stage, we took the opera very much on his terms and the music sounded terrific. Economical yet decisive of gesture, he controls tempi to allow relaxation for the singers whilst maintaining tension and dramatic sweep through each act.

The singing was variable, as to be expected in a revival. The veteran Renato Bruson had presence as Nabucco, but started unpromisingly vocally, with wayward intonation. He sang far better after the interval and made much of the King's breakdown and changing fortunes. (At other performances, our Zurich favourite Leo Nucci was listed, another singer in the autumn of his career but, in our experience more reliable vocally than is now Bruson, who made his debut in 1961.) Most impressive was Paoletta Marrocu as Abigaille, the thwarted would-be usurper; a dramatic soprano of real star quality who held attention whenever she was on stage. Boiko Zvetanov had the ungrateful part of Ismaele which has its best scenes early on; a vertically challenged tenor, he compensated with loud delivery and rudimentary acting which could be said for most of the others too.

Pictured: Yvonne Naef and Cheyne Davidson (Ariane & Barbe-Bleue)
Paoletta Marrocu

© Peter Grahame Woolf