Narrative of the mind: Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Charles Dutoit, perform’s Bartok’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.” 28 Oct. 2016
Tell drama simply. Black and white. Interior, exterior. Woman and man.
Bartok’s riveting “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” keeps it simple. Simple and harrowing, hopelessly inevitable.
Musical and narrative superlatives work perfectly here. Performed this weekend by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, welcoming and celebrating Charles Dutoit’s 80th birthday in a series of unusual programs at Symphony Hall, “Bluebeard” was paired with inexplicable appropriateness with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39.
For all the proportions and ingenuity of Mozart’s symphony, this program belonged to Bartok, thanks to Dutoit, the orchestra, and two typecast soloists, the estimable baritone Matthias Goerne, and the stunning Hungarian mezzo Ildiko Komlosi.
The narrative of “Bluebeard” is direct: Bluebeard welcomes his new wife, Judith, to his castle: dark, uninviting, but bleakly opulent. Judith wants to explore seven locked doors. He pleads with her to change her mind; she invokes love, and pushes on.
Each of the doors reveals splendor or horror, giving wordless accounts of Bluebeard’s wealth and the unseemly methods he’s used to accumulate it. The final door, with his imprisoned previous wives behind, reveals Judith’s fate.
Sung in Hungarian, with characterful music, the work—when staged, done in pitch-blackness with only glimmers of light—revels in secrecy and deep psychology. The characters parry, the truth seems inescapable, and every moment grips.
It’s entirely organic; you couldn’t imagine this narrative without Bartok’s music—in fact, you can only imagine it as being sung in Hungarian. The deliberate cadences, all sung but not with arias, and not with sprechstimme—gorgeous, dramatic, swelling vocal lines—and the colors supplied by Bartok’s score, make a perfect whole.
The score paints its moods aggressively. Winds and xylophone describe Bluebeard’s torture room; tutti with organ swells show the vista of Bluebeard’s realm; harp and winds delve into his Lake of Tears.
And all of this panoramic vision exists in the minds of Judith and Bluebeard. Of all the things made clear by the score, their own tortured relationship stands out most clearly. They are drawn together like negative and positive, doomed to annihilate.
Goerne is a formidable artist; Komlosi, working impressively without the score, was every bit his equal in this role. The multiple moving parts, intense scoring and drama brought out the best in Dutoit, who in turn demanded and received an engaged account from the orchestra.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Charles Dutoit, with soloists Matthias Goerne and Ildiko Komlosi, completes its performances of Bartok’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” Saturday evening at 8 p.m. 888-266-1200; bso.org