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Bartók: Bluebeard's Castle

11 customer reviews

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(May 13, 2008)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A visually stunning all-Hungarian production of Bartók's only opera, memorably led by Sir Georg Solti, one of the composer's greatest interpreters. Previously released on Decca LD and VHS.

Béla Bartók’s sole opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, is a masterpiece well-served by an all-Hungarian cast and conductor in this filmed studio version. It’s a dark, brooding work peppered with dramatic moments; less a retelling of the Bluebeard legend than a journey into psychological depths and the impenetrability of the human soul. Bluebeard and his bride, Judith, arrive at his castle and as they enter the subterranean fortress whose walls sigh with tears, she notices seven locked doors and insists that Bluebeard give her the keys to unlock them. Reluctantly, he agrees. She opens the doors, one by one, to reveal a torture chamber, an armory, a room of treasures, a secret garden, his vast domains, a lake of tears, and, behind the seventh door, his former wives, frozen in immobility, whom she joins, consigned by Bluebeard to his past and his frozen soul. "All is darkness," he says, and the orchestra fades away in Stygian gloom. The third character in the opera is the orchestra, commenting upon and describing the scenes in Debussy-influenced colors and imaginative scoring. The orchestral sighs, its stabbing figures delineate the "blood motif" that runs through the work, and when Judith opens the fifth door that reveals the glories of Bluebeard’s kingdom, its radiant climax is one of modern opera’s most thrilling moments. Sir Georg Solti was a great Bartók conductor and his dynamic, idiomatic reading is a major asset of this production. His singers are excellent too. Sylvia Sass acts well as Judith, wheedling and imperiously demanding at turns, and if her top notes are shrill at times, her rich lower register more than compensates. She’s costumed in a flowing mauve nightgown fringed in a darker purple, giving the impression of a bird in flight when she moves. Bass Kolos Kováts is a commanding Bluebeard, deep of voice, noble in demeanor, though somewhat stolid as an actor. He’s costumed in an outfit more fitting for a B movie about alien planets, with a campy black leather outfit, a high collar framing his head.

Set designer Gábor Bachmann’s gloomy castle is well portrayed. He lets us enter each of the secret rooms with variable results; the shining treasury and the garden come off well, the vast kingdom is anything but vast or even impressive. Director Miklós Szinetár does what he can to introduce movement to an inherently static opera, and having Sass portray all three of Bluebeard’s former wives in the final scene is a neat touch. The prerecorded sound mix favors the singers to the detriment of orchestral detail, though enough shines through to leave us in awe at both Bartók’s genius and Solti’s mastery. --Dan Davis

Bluebeard’s Castle, is in 4:3 ratio. Sound options include PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround. Sung in Hungarian with subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, and Chinese. No extras are included.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Classical, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: Hungarian
  • Subtitles: Chinese, English, French, German, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Decca
  • DVD Release Date: May 13, 2008
  • Run Time: 56 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0011WMWWU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,057 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Michael Birman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 17, 2008
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Bela Bartok's masterful one-act nacht-oper, based on the original Barbe-Bleue story by Charles Perrault (1697), composed between February and September 1911 and finally performed at the Royal Opera House in Budapest 24 May 1918 with a substantially revised finale, was his only opera. There were further alterations of the vocal score in 1921 and still further adjustments to the score's vocal declamation during the 1930s. It represents, in its electric novelty, a forceful new creation in Hungarian opera: avante-garde in comparison to Bartok's contemporaries Puccini and Strauss, heavily influenced by Debussy, the symbolist drama features a superb libretto by Bela Balazs that exposes the blood-soaked, brooding essence of an aesthete and murderer, rumored to have killed his previous young wives in grisly fashion.

Their bodies as yet undiscovered, new wife Judith is determined to enter the castle's seven sealed doors, forbidden her by Bluebeard, in an attempt to resolve her doubts and solve the mystery. The dark-enshrouded castle, its damp walls weeping moisture like tears of sorrow in the gloom, broods like Bluebeard's soul, resolved to guard his secrets. Judith, seeking the solace of more light, asks Bluebeard why the doors are bolted. When he responds that no one is to see what lies behind them, she pounds on the first of the seven bolted doors, a pitiable sigh echoing through the castle. Judith asks for the key and more sighs pierce the darkness as she turns the lock. One-by-one, the hidden secrets of the forbidden doors are revealed.

Kolos Kovats is a Byronic Bluebeard, singing and acting the role with taste and style. The beautiful Sylvia Sass, dressed with ethereal delicacy in diaphanous flowing robes, wanders the castle fluttering her silk covered arms with bat-like grace.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Giedrius Alkauskas on May 14, 2008
Lovers of classical music usually have plenty of recordings on their shelves. Some are played once a week, some-couples of times a year, yet almost everyone has a dozen of pieces, which are very special in all meanings: intimate and extremely dear. "Kekszakalu Herzeg Vara" is the one for me.
No need to describe the music of this masterpiece. The current DVD is a studio recording of this opera. Singer's voices and orchestra are recorded separately. Though it is not a movie as well: the low budget of this production is apparent, and some cinematographic scenes are not very satisfactory in accomplishment: for example, Bluebeard is transparent, while he shows Judith his Kingdom (two rolls put one over another).
Yet this movie has a very strong, undescribable emotional appeal. Singers are superb, Judith is a very beautiful, strong and charismatic woman, while Bluebeard is mysterious and gloomy. The delicate subtleness of the score is completely represented by Solti's orchestra, as well as in the action and montage decisions. This opera was criticised for being static: indeed, nothing happens there. This is one of the reasons why this undeniable masterpiece was not released on DVD previously. What is this dark castle of Bluebeard's? Bela Bartok answers: it is secret, gloomy soul and heart of a man. This journey is an inner drama, and all the cast, conductor and director makes it unforgettable.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Reader from on May 20, 2008
Bluebeard's Castle is probably my favorite 20th century opera. This film doesn't disappoint in conception, performance, or execution. (If this film was made more recently, I'd probably have some issues regarding the production and direction, but since it was made in the late 70s/early 80s, I guess all could be forgiven in light of the stellar performances of all involved.)

I had to take one star off the rating however, because there are no additional features or documentaries included. It's just the film pure and simple with no commentaries. At $30 a pop for a performance lasting less than an hour, purchasing this film would be basically prohibitive for most of us. But since Borders was offering a 40% off coupon that week, I decided to splurge.

I'm very glad to have it. Watch it without subtitles first, just to take in the imagery and hear the vocals and orchestra without any distractions. Then watch the movie again with the subtitles and see if you don't get truly blown away at the overall spectacle. My two cents.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By drkhimxz on December 11, 2010
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This studio production of Bartok's only opera is about as close to perfection as one is likely to see. Solti brilliantly conducts the score, Sass (Judith) and Kovats (Bluebeard) sing and act from deep within their roles, the scenic design captures, and recreates for the audience, the meaning of the drama, while the director, Scinetar, draws together the components into an intense love song plumbing the nature of love, life and death. For 56 entrancing minutes one is spellbound by the beauty, the lust and the suspense. Bartok's music and Balasz's libretto meld seamlessly with the performance. All-in-all this should be in any opera collection.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Robert Baksa on July 9, 2008
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Bluebeard's Castle contains my favorite music by Bartok. But like many composers who really did not have a feel for opera, Bartok failed to make a stageworthy piece. It is tremendously static and film directors can come to grief trying to salvage works with similar problems. Obviously, lots of money was spent on the production but it doesn't really bring the piece to life in my opinion. Sass is a handsome woman with a naturally beautiful voice. Sad to say, she has technical problems in the higher register and the voice is not large enough to cut through the heavy orchestral textures. Kovatz is better with a fine ringing sound but he is as wooden as a tree. At least both performers are native to the language. Many big label recordings use major opera singers who cannot adequatly deal with the pronunciation of the language. There is a stunning simplicity and directness about the libretto to this opera and the english translation does not do it justice. But perhaps this is something that only a Hungarian would be sensitive to. All in all this opera is perhaps better appreciated as an aural experience letting one's own imagination fill in the visual aspect.

Because I really enjoy great singing, I tend to shy away from opera films where one cannot see the singer really singing. But in this case there is not other option. Too bad.
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