Bluebeard’s Castle, and Rite of Spring, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2009Posted on 7 November 2009
This was the first night of a double bill, in which the main item was Bartok’s one-act opera performed by the English National Opera.
Bluebeard’s Castle is an extraordinarily dark work for two singers: Bluebeard and his new wife Judith. I thought this production by Daniel Kramer, with designs by Giles Cadle and lighting by Peter Mumford, worked very well, amply showing the light, the darkness and the blood. The castle has seven locked doors and Judith demands they be opened. When the fifth door was opened, out poured nine children, neatly arranged in increasing sizes, and behind the seventh door were the three former wives, each mother to three children. This production suggests that the wives were sadistically abused by Bluebeard, and just as he is about to do the same with his fourth wife, the opera ends. It’s intense and disturbing, and from the orchestra pit, Edward Gardner gave the music great power and lyricism. Clive Bayley sang an autistic and threatening Bluebeard, with Michaela Martens as a powerful Judith. This production was well worth the price of the ticket, and I only wish it had been followed by something more worthy.
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was given a tremendous rhythmic intensity by Edward Gardner, and in some ways the music complemented Bartok rather well. Unfortunately the dance-work accompanying the music — a co-production with the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, directed by Michael Keegan-Dolan — was a disappointment. A young man is killed, three women are drugged and gang raped by men dressed in animal heads, who later strip naked and put on women’s dresses. I liked the March Hare heads for the three women — the ones who drank the drugged tea — and the juxtaposition of March Hares and tea reminded me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, but overall I found the interpretation unnecessarily crude. I prefer to see the performers dancing, rather than writhing horizontally on stage, because I find that more abstract choreography carries more power.