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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Iolanta/Duke Bluebeard's Castle

Two fairy tales of love and terror returns with new divas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Either this is a scene from Duke Bluebeard's Castle....or the 1 train is taking forever.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
The pervading motif of young women in the throes of self-discovery and danger ties together this double-bill, one of the most eagerly anticipated revivals of the coming Met season.

What is Iolanta? 
The ultimate Russian romantic, Tchaikovsky set Iolanta as his last opera: the tale of a blind princess (Anna Netrebko) whose world is changed with the discovery of a handsome suitor (Piotr Beczala) a new world of sight and color and finally, true love.

OK. Tell me about Bluebeard next!
Béla Bartók only wrote one opera. But thankfully that opera was Bluebeard's Castle, which chronicles the disastrous wedding night of newlyweds Bluebeard (Gerald Finley) and Judith (Angela Denoke.). With a slow and careful building of dread, the opera chronicles Judith's explorations of her choice in marrying her new husband, and the disturbing and bloody secrets of his mysterious and dreadful home. Bartók's mastery of musical color and a large orchestra make this domestic horror story a feast for the senses.

Do these two operas have anything in common?
Uhhh...sort of? These are both fairy tales and important one-act operas that remain underperformed. Each has spectacular orchestration and gorgeous music, and each is about the destruction of illusions and the opening of the heroines' eyes, in one way or another.

What are the productions like?
This Metropolitan Opera double bill debuted in 2015. It is imported from two European festivals. Iolanta comes from Baden-Baden, while Bluebeard originated at the Teatr Wielki, home of the Polish National Opera. This was the Met''s first-ever production of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and the first staging of Bluebeard's Castle in the 21st century. Marusz Trelinski's twin bill is inspired by film noir of the 1940's.

Who's in the operas?
Sonya Yoncheva is the titular heroine of Iolanta, with Met utility infield tenor Matthew Polenzani starring as Count Gottfried. The Bluebeards are played by veteran baritone Gerald Finley and soprano Angela Denoke. Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási leads all performances.

When do these operas open?
Iolanta and Duke Bluebeard's Castle return to the Met stage on January 24, 2019. This cast does not get a Live in HD broadcast.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets for Iolanta  and Bluebeard's Castle are available at MetOpera.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

Recording Recommendations:
Kirov Opera Orchestra and Chorus cond. Valery Gergiev (London/Philips)
Gegam Grigorian, Dmitry Hvorostovsky and Galina Gorchakova were superstars in St. Petersburg and this two-disc account of the 96-minute opera captures all three artists in fine voice. Mr. Gergiev leads a sweeping and emotive account of this lovely and underappreciated score.

Bluebeard's Castle:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Pierre Boulez (Deutsche Grammophon)
Bluebeard: László Polgár
Judith: Jessye Norman
This searing recording features Mr. Boulez' detail-rich account of the score and the rich tonal color of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at their very best. The bright, brass-driven fanfare at the opening of the central door will probably scare your pets and annoy your neighbors.
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