Dukas: Ariane Et Barbe-Bleue
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Dukas's opera Ariane et Barbe-bleue, based on Maeterlinck's symbolist version of the classic tale, sees free spirit Ariane become the sixth wife of the infamous Barbe-bleue, who gives his new bride seven keys to seven doors, but prohibits the use of the last. Ariane discovers an array of glittering jewels behind the first six doors, but a terrifying reality awaits her as she unlocks the seventh. José van Dam is cast as the villainous Barbe-bleue, while taking on the immensely demanding role of Ariane - who does not leave the stage throughout the entire opera - is American soprano Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet.Press Reviews
"Also of paramount importance for a successful performance is the orchestral part. And also in this case, the current production featured the right person in the right place, by entrusting the orchestra of the Liceu, which had never played this opera, to conductor Stéphane Denève." (The Opera Critic)
"Charbonnet copes well with the extreme demands of Ariane, while Patricia Bardon is excellent as the nurse and it is wonderful to have Jose van Dam for Barbe-Bleu's handful of lines. Most of all, Stéphane Denève's pacing and handling of orchestral texture are spot-on. One to hear with the screen off. " (BBC Music Magazine ★★★)
"Charbonnet offers limited variety of tone, but she stands up remarkably well to the role's non-stop demands. As her nurse, Patricia Bardon is admirable in a role she has rather made her own on stage and CD...Dukas's opera deserves to be heard. " (Gramophone)Cast
Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (Ariane)
José van Dam (Barbe-Bleue)
Patricia Bardon (Nurse)
Gemma Coma-Alabert (Sélysette)
Beatriz Jiménez (Ygraine)
Elena Copons (Mélisande)
Orchestra & Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu; Stéphane Denève
Company: Gran Teatre del Liceu
Stage Director: Claus Guth
Catalogue Number: OA1098D
Date of Performance: 2011
Running Time: 120 minutes
Sound: 2.0LPCM + 5.1(5.0) DTS
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, IT, CA, JP, KO
Label: Opus Arte
Top customer reviews
It has a good pedigree. Toscanini gave its U.S. premiere with the Metropolitan Opera in 1911 and it has been recorded several times in audio. This is its first performance on DVD; it's a mystery why it hasn't been filmed before. Dukas is far more than the popular Sorcerer's Apprentice's. His Symphony and the ballet La Peri are first-rate French romantic works and Ariane et Barbe-blue grips the listener with its searing beauty.
This 2011 performance from Barcelona has some important strengths. The orchestra is a major component of the work and conductor Stephane Deneve brings sweep, sensitivity and color to the music, with the Liceu Orchestra in fine fettle. Unfortunately, as much as the sounds from the pit are lovely, they cannot fully overcome lead singer Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet and director Claus Guth. Charbonnet, an American soprano, has a warm middle and lower register and is a sensitive actress. She is onstage seemingly the entire almost two-hour opera, and unfortunately, the unsteadiness and strain in her upper register in louder passages is too often and detrimentally on display. That's especially so in the first scene of act three where I began to dread it every time she began to sing.(Charbonnet has also recorded the role of Judith in Bartok's version of Bluebeard's Castle, with the BBC Symphony in 2005, although it seems currently unavailable).
While Ariane is easily the major figure onstage, the nurse who accompanies her has the next biggest role and thankfully is sung with security and color by Patricia Bardon. Jose van Dam's Bluebeard is onstage in each act but only briefly and sings only a little in the first act.
Guth has made his mark with controversial and - although I may be in the minority - compelling, updated stagings of the Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. Here he has also modernized the scene but to less convincing results. Dukas' castle has turned into a house which looks sterile and institutional on the inside, where almost all the action takes place. The opera mentions peasants, drawbridges, pitchforks, moats and carriages, and none of these are seen. His modernized view makes these images seem incongruous. Guth also plays fast and loose with some of the stage directions.
His offstage use, however, of the Peter Grimes-like vindictive community (here peasant) choir is a nice element which emphasizes the wives and propels the imagination. Guth also makes some good use of light, shade and darkness and has some interesting video backdrops which help bring some atmosphere to the proceedings. He needed more of these creative touches. The staging isn't "Eurotrash." It's not insulting. It's just pretty lifeless and insipid. This beautiful score deserves better.
The costumes, simple white dresses for Ariane and Bluebeard's five wives, also seem spartan, incompatible with Maeterlinck's images from another era, although the actresses do their most to engage the viewer, neurotic as they are. Dukas' score has much mystery and magic. What we see on screen and hear from Charbonnet has far too little.
Charbonnet as Ariane is a mismatch. It is a very difficult character to play, since it needs to convert from an innocent bride to an assertive woman. Her singing is also not convincing and sometimes out of tune, or at least it sounds like that.
On the other hand, the opera is interesting and some of the music is beautiful and suggestive. The prelude to Act III stands by itself. With a different production I would have enjoyed the opera much more. I don't know of any other DVD or BluRay recording, so I will have to stay with this one until another one is produced. The opera is worth it.
Although it is rather more emphatic in highlighting the specifics of the drama and the words than Debussy, Dukas' score also hints at those other meanings and ambiguities. The references to Debussy's impressionism may be apparent - just as Maeterlinck uses characters from his other works (like Mélisande) for Bluebeard's wives - but Dukas more obviously draws from Wagner and particularly Strauss in Salome (in the scoring of the dark undercurrents in the relationship between Salome and Jochanaan) for more explicit, direct expression. It's a fascinating and rich musical exploration by Dukas in his only opera work, powerful, beautiful and modern, possibly even more influential than Debussy's unique and inimitable opera, with the associations and female psychology explored here evidently influential on Strauss and Hofmannstahl's fairytale-like Die Frau ohne Schatten and its extraordinary use of female voices is matched only by Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites.
Considering the psychological nature of the work and the necessity of allowing its openness, ambiguity and symbolism to speak for itself, it's perhaps not surprising that director Claus Guth doesn't follow the libretto too literally. He avoids what would now be considered clichéd imagery in the opening scene of mobs of angry townspeople bearing pitchforks and firebrands, as the latest young bride seems to go willingly to her doom in Bluebeard's castle. The castle here is nothing more than a modern suburban residence, but it's what it represents that is important, and evidently the house is Bluebeard himself and it's the uncomfortable and dangerous nature of the masculinity that Ariane examines, challenges and delves into, not only opening doors, but breaking through the surface of the floor to the horrors that lie underneath. The set design works well in this respect, keeping the visuals clean, simple and symbolic, allowing the singers the necessary space to express the layers of meaning that lie within Maeterlinck's libretto and Dukas' seething score.
Much of the power of the work is indeed delivered through the scoring for powerful mezzo-soprano and contralto female voices and this cast proves to be highly effective in conveying its force. Ariane requires a strong Wagnerian soprano to express her character's inner strength of personality and purposefulness and Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet's rich tone is commanding and persuasive, yet sensitive to the shimmering suggestion of the score. She is well supported by an equally strong and wonderfully measured Patricia Bardon as the nurse, but all of the female cast here are impressive here as the other wives, although Gemma Coma-Alabert's fiery Sélysette is the only one with a significant role. As the male at the centre of the work, Bluebeard is evidently an important role in Ariane et Barbe-bleue, even if the singing is limited to only a few lines. José van Dam - who has mostly retired from big-scale stage productions - is no longer in possession of a voice as commanding as it once was, but there's consequently a vulnerability as well as a necessary strength of personality here that puts an interesting spin on his Barbe-bleue.
This is an extremely rare work but one that deserves to be better known, and - appearing for the first time on either DVD or Blu-ray - this is a marvellous production of a fascinating work, emphatically delivered with force and sensitivity by the orchestra of the Liceu under Stéphane Denêve. The quality of the Blu-ray's HD image and high resolution sound mixes ensures that the performance is given the best possible presentation. I personally found the surround DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 mix a little too open, and that it suited the more direct stereo PCM mix better, with the full detail of the orchestration clearer through headphones. Other than a Cast Gallery, there are no extra features on the disc, but the booklet contains a good essay by Gavin Plumley, and there's a full, detailed synopsis. The BD is all-region compatible with subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Catalan, Japanese and Korean.
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