Bluebeard’s Castle, and Rite of Spring, ENO, London Coliseum, 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.

2 Responses to “Bluebeard’s Castle, and Rite of Spring, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2009”

  1. emmanuel obeya says:

    I find it a shame that reviewers are sometimes unable to separate their personal tastes, and distastes for that matter, from their reviews. That you would prefer ballet dancers performing what is a very dark and serious subject only detracts from the veracity and relevance of your review. Would you really prefer to see steps and nice lines and a perfect arabesque than a work that attempts to speak to a wider audience than the pearl necklaces and pacemakers that you seem to want to champion?
    I never had a conversation with stravinsky but i would hazard a guess that a work that follows, reflects and supports the brooding threat that drives the music would be okay with him.

    • markronan says:

      I’ve seen the original choreography by Nijinsky, as revived by the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, as well as Glen Tetley’s version for American Ballet Theater, and Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography, which I think is terrific. None of these use arabesques and the ‘line’ familiar from classical ballet. They are very good modern ballets, but this Fabulous Beast production wastes a lot of Stravinsky’s gloriously rhythmic music, which might help explain why many in the audience booed at the end. Hard to imagine Stravinsky would approve when he thought Nijinsky himself missed some of the rhythmic elements.

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