DUKAS: Ariane et Barbe-bleue (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

DUKAS: Ariane et Barbe-bleue (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet (Ariane)/Jose van Dam (Barbe-bleue)/ Patricia Bardon (Nurse)/ Gemma Coma-Alabert (Selysette)/ Beatriz Jimenez (Ygraine)/Elena Copons (Melisande)/ Salome Haller (Bellangere)/ Alba Valldaura (Alladine)/ Orch. and Chor. of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/ Stephane Deneve
Director: Claus Guth
Studio: Opus Arte OA BD7114 D [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1081p HD color 
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA Surround 5.0
Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Catalan, Spanish, Korean, Japanese
Extras: Cast Gallery
No Region Code
Length: 120 minutes
Rating: ***1/2 

It is Charles Perrault’s French literary tale La Barbe-bleue that serves as the basis for Paul Dukas’s opera, as of that by Bartok, Bluebeard’s Castle. But in the Dukas piece Maurice Maeterlinck created a symbolist play of the same name, and the composer got him to write the libretto. Maeterlinck originally had reserved the rights to his work for composer Edvard Grieg, who jettisoned the idea—and one just can’t imagine what kind of work would have resulted from that combination.

As it stands, this highly homogenized production does all it can to present the composer’s intentions—whether the librettist’s or not is up for debate—by setting it in a modern, garish white villa that almost looks like a restricted hygiene-efficient hospital room, with little hint except psychologically of the horrors taking place in the “dungeon” below. For those not familiar with the plot, such as it is, Ariane, the sixth wife of the infamous Bluebeard (a psychopathic nobleman prone to violence and murder) tries her dead-level best to remain obedient to her husband’s instructions that she have access to the six doors for which he has left her keys while he is away. There is a seventh key also, but it is not to be used under any circumstances. Allusions to the biblical story of Eve are impossible to ignore here. Ultimately, Ariane opens the forbidden room and finds the previous five wives imprisoned, and in rags. Here Maeterlinck parts from the Perrault story, which has the five wives murdered and residing in their own blood, which gives a completely different, and quite Gothic, angle to the story. Maeterlinck is looking for a more redemptive aspect of the tale, and so has the wives alive, but confined by the “magic” of the residence. In the end the villagers assault the place and wound Bluebeard, who is actually tended—with love—by his other wives, and Ariane, who feigns a desire to “finish him off” in order to save his life, ends up leaving.

Bartok’s opera takes a turn different from the original, and has “Judith” trapped in the end and unable to leave. Neither opera dwells on the more overtly gruesome aspects of the story, each seeking a pseudo-psychological arch which heads toward different ends. Bartok’s story is more succinct and in most ways more satisfying; though the music of Dukas’s post-impressionistic, and even “Wagnerian” synthesis (all three members of the Second Viennese School were at the premiere and expressed admiration) the work tends to go on too long, even though it reveals a side of the composer that those familiar only with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice will be quite astounded. The role of Ariane is unbelievably taxing—she is onstage the entire two hours—and Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet is magnificent in the role, as is Jose van Dam in his mysterious portrayal of Bluebeard.

This is really an ensemble opera, and everyone does well in attempting to represent a storyline which is at best problematic, much more suited to the currents of its time than now. But it is an important work with stunning music that deserves to be heard, and though the visuals grate on the eyes after a while, the sound is wonderful. For those interested in less demanding eye-strain, the recording by Leo Botstein on Telarc, which I reviewed earlier, is extremely fine.

—Steven Ritter

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