My brain seething, then, with confused thoughts about romanticism, modernism, and gender, I turned to scholarly articles. I have discovered a lack of consensus (somehow unsurprising.) I have, however, discovered a number of other things as well! This very cool collection of essays includes one on "Bluebeard, Hero of Modernity" which places Bartók's opera in the context of lots (and lots and lots) of modernist anxiety about how to (re)define gender roles and public and private relations between men and women. In the same collection, there's a musicological article which taught me the word isomorphic, and about why the chords of F# and C sound so creepy together, and about the diabolus in musica (ooooh.) Also interesting to me were the connections between Bartók and the author of the play/libretto for Bluebeard's Castle, Béla Balázs. The men shared interests in both Hungarian folk music, and in symbolist drama like that of Maurice Maeterlinck, of Pelléas et Mélisande and Ariane et Barbe-Bleue fame. A chapter in a book by a psychotherapist sees the work as depicting "a failure to cross a threshold into a full conjoined intersubjectivity." Er, yes? More interestingly to me, the author noted musical cross-references to earlier works which Bartók had dedicated to earlier loves (he dedicated Bluebeard's Castle to his wife... no comment.) Carl Leafstedt, in The Cambridge Companion to Bartók, links the work (Bartók's only opera) to his other stage works as a "portrait of [modernist] loneliness"; meanwhile, Judit (!) Frigyesi, in this book, analyzes the influences of peasant and Gypsy music (even though he wouldn't admit it!) on Bartók's musical language. I've been having fun--can you tell? I still have more questions than answers, though. Hopefully I haven't bored you all to tears, Gentle Readers; tomorrow comes the more interesting post on what the NYPhil, Gabor Bretz, and Michelle DeYoung made of it all, and what I made of them. In the meantime, here's conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen talking about Bartók.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Bluebeard's Castle: Doing My Homework
My initial excitement for Bluebeard's Castle with the NYPhil was based on knowledge of the work's reputation alone, but over the past fortnight or so, I worked to change that. I started with the two recordings available through my university library. Because the opera gods smiled on me, one of these featured Christa Ludwig (excerpt here,) and the other featured Anne Sofie von Otter (inexplicably, that CD seems to be $50.00, but you can get the MP3 for $7.99; excerpt here.) Not the least of the reasons this pairing proved a fabulous introduction was that these mezzos presented wildly different interpretations (of course, Istvan Kertész and Walter Berry on the first recording, and Bernard Haitink and John Tomlinson on the second, are hardly chopped liver... but it's all about the mezzos for me. Especially these two.) Anyway: Christa Ludwig was a gorgeously warm Judith, overflowing with tenderness, her voice radiant with love and the need for love. Her performance was complemented by Walter Berry's clearly suffering Bluebeard, who wanted Judith as a person, not a trophy. Their tragedy, then, was that of two people who loved each other and couldn't find ways to communicate everything that needed to be said. That was heartbreaking; the Von Otter/Tomlinson recording was deeply unsettling. Von Otter's Judith was (I thought) afraid from the beginning, but also fiercely proud. I could almost see the defiant tilt of her head, and she demanded Bluebeard's trust as her right. This was a battle of wills with Tomlinson's outwardly immovable Bluebeard... which neither won.