Return of a landmark production
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
05/06/2015 - & May 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 23, 2015
Béla Bartók: A kékszakállú herceg vára, opus 11
Arnold Schoenberg: Erwartung, opus 17 (*)
John Relyea (Duke Bluebeard), Ekaterina Gubanova (Judith), Krisztina Szabó (*) (The Woman)
The Canadian Opera Orchestra, Johannes Debus (conductor)
Robert Lepage (director), François Racine (revival director), Michael Levine (set and costume designer), Robert Thomson (lighting designer), Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy (media effects desginer)
E. Gubanova & J. Relyea (© Michael Cooper)
Robert Lepage’s landmark production of Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung was first produced back in 1993 conducted by COC Artistic Director Richard Bradshaw. It was soon widely seen; that same year it won both the music and theatre prizes at the Edinburgh Festival. It was also presented in New York, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Seattle, Cincinnati, Montreal, Edmonton, Quebec City, and presented further in the 1995 and 2001 COC seasons. Here it is again - and, unlike some productions hauled out of storage, it works every bit as well as it did all those years ago.
The basic reason for its success is that the visuals are a perfect correlative to the music and texts. In the Bartók work Robert Thomson’s lighting effects suggest the various scenes (the weapons, the jewels, etc) behind each door - and a further strength is that it is all more suggestive than explicit. In Erwartung the solo singer (Krisztina Szabó giving an utterly committed performance) has her feverish tale enacted with the help of three actors (Noam Markus as the dead lover, Mark Johnson as the psychiatrist, and Jordan Gasparik as the other woman). Slow motion acrobatics helped sustain the dreamlike (or nightmarish) visions. In both works deft use is made of a narrow pool of water along the front of the stage.
On opening night there seemed to be one small defect when the projections from behind door number five (revealing Bluebeard’s vast realm) popped into view a couple of seconds before Judith’s outburst and the great orchestral torrent that erupts from the pit. At the same time extra brass players were also stationed in galleries to the right and left of the stage at the level of the fifth ring of seating; their contribution added an extra frisson to the already nerve-tingling sonics.
As mentioned above, Krisztina Szabó has quite the personal triumph in the Schoenberg work. John Relyea is on record as stating that Bluebeard is his favourite role; his staunch, black voice matches the role perfectly. Ekaterina Gubanova displays her rich expressive voice in the role of Judith. The orchestra under Johannes Debus is its usual stellar self throughout.
A discordant note occurred at intermission: the COC marketing people have seen fit to play (repeatedly) a promotional video for the currently running Barber of Seville in the theatre’s multi-level lobby and the sound echoes through all levels. No canned (or live) music of any sort is welcome at an opera intermission.