Seeing Double: A Review of the Met’s Double Bill: Iolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle

On Thursday night the Met put the premiere of Iolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle on the stage. Both new productions directed by Mariusz Trelinski were supposed to open on Monday night, however, the impending “blizzard” did not allow for that to happen. On Thursday the weather was still blustery and nippy, giving an appropriate feel for both the Tchaikovsky and the haunting Bartók.

Starting with Iolanta, the production was very much focused on the stark differences between what Iolanta, sung by the fabulous Anna Netrebko, pictured despite her lack of sight versus what everyone else around her could see. Her bedroom, small and isolated on the big Met stage, lacked any color except for some lifeless deer heads mounted on the wall. The only instance when color came into play was when Vaudemont, sung by Piotr Beczała, arrived and questioned Iolanta about the red and white roses. As Iolanta is somewhat of an obscure opera written by Tchaikovsky immediately after his masterpiece The Queen of Spades, the production’s darkness and ambiguity did not bother me.

Anna Netrebko in the title role of Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta". © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

Anna Netrebko in the title role of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta”. © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

The music for Iolanta fits like a glove in Netrebko’s voice. Her sound was truly voluminous, just as it was earlier in the Met’s season when she sang Lady Macbeth. Her rich middle register is something in which one can just sink him or herself. Beczała’s voice was very silvery as Vaudemont. There is nothing artificial or fake to his sound; it has become increasingly pure, at least to my ears, over the last few seasons at the Met. Aleksei Markov played a boyish Robert, high-fiving and performing an elaborate handshake with Beczała at one point when he returns to the stage. Ilya Bannik did a great job filling in for Alexei Tanovitski as King René, Iolanta’s overbearing and protective father. As my dad said in regard to Iolanta’s family keeping the fact the she is blind hidden from her, “These people really need to get out more”.

The Met Orchestra played superbly in both the Tchaikovsky and the Bartók, with only a few minor disconnects that will be fixed as the run continues. The chorus sounded magnificent in Iolanta, as they do not have a role in Bluebeard. The final scene in which Iolanta is finally cured of her blindness is movingly accompanied by the chorus and the rest of the cast.

The performance was dampened, however, by an unfortunate event that occurred during the bows before intermission. During the week, I had seen protests outside both Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera against Maestro Gergiev and his “friendship” with Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia who has faced a lot of controversy in the last year over his policies towards homosexuals and his attitude towards Ukraine. In light of these events, security at the Met was tighter than usual on Thursday night. That did not stop a protestor from hopping onto the edge of the pit on the Stage Right side, walking around the rim onto the stage, and unfolding an anti-Putin, Gergiev, and Netrebko poster with a Ukrainian flag drawn on it to the audience, and then to the cast. Scarily enough, it took more than just a half-second for a stage manager to point the protestor off stage left, let alone tackle him, so he could then be arrested. That excitement left a bit of a bad taste in all of our mouths as we left the theater for intermission.

As all of us hesitantly walked back into the theater after that awful incident. I never would have guessed that I would grow increasingly scared and haunted through the rest of the evening. Bluebeard’s Castle truly left me shaken, not only because it is a terrifying opera in and of itself, but because the production was so downright creepy. The opera began with the traditional poem read in Magyar booming through amplified speakers throughout the theater accompanied by creaking noises. As we were listening to this ominous, deep voice speak, the entire theater’s lights were dimmed to black, as we virtually walked through a dark forest thanks to Trelinski’s vivid projections. The production was overall very dark and dismal; lighted scenes came as a shock. For example, the flashes of red and white light in the torture chamber as well as the immaculate-looking, white-tiled bathroom containing the Lake of Tears came as real surprises. At several points, Judith was blind-folded by Bluebeard before opening the doors, connecting Judith’s being “blinded” from the truth and Iolanta’s physical blindness. The most terrifying factors I found in the production were the almost three-dimensional projections that allowed audience members to feel as if they were walking with Judith down the corridors of Bluebeard’s Castle, and the amplified noises that echoed throughout the house.

Nadja Michael as Judith in Bartók's "Bluebeard's Castle". © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

Nadja Michael as Judith in Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle”. © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

Nadja Michael played the innocent ingenue Judith very well. Her looks allowed for her to be enticing and sexy at the same time; at one point she appears completely nude coming out of a bathtub behind the door of riches. Her high C upon opening the fifth door positively rang through the house. I felt as if she had much more control in this role than when she sang Lady Macbeth in the 2011-12 season. Mikhail Petrenko played a somewhat quiet, held-back Bluebeard, acting as if he had been down the road three times already with three previous wives preceding Judith. He blended well with the production in his pitch black suit and wig while showing off his gloomy castle to Judith. At some points it was difficult to hear him, but that was made up by his sound being creepily amplified at other times when Judith was alone on stage. Amplified noises and voices in an opera house may not be traditional, but for a horrifying opera like Bluebeard, I felt like it really worked.

I look forward to returning to see Iolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle in the movie theater Saturday, February 14, if not before at the Met!

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