Friday, March 6, 2009

It All Happens at the Opera

I am an infrequent opera attender. I have a friend who loves the opera. She used to live in New York city and has a repertoire of favorite opera stars, some of whom she flies specifically to New York to see. I usually attend at least a couple of operas a year with her and sometimes with a few other friends as well.

Last week Seattle Opera featured two operas, Bluebeard's Castle by, Bela Bartok and Erwartung by, Arnold Schoenberg.

Bluebeard's Castle is an old story, but the staging brought a definite new life to this version. It appeared as though the two performers, Bluebeard and wife number four, were being viewed in a moving picture as the stage was bordered by a huge, opulent frame. The stage was dark, there was actual water. Bluebeard's first three wives emerged from door number seven and swam through the small pool in order to get onto the stage. The effect was quite staggering. The shadows and lighting set the tone for "weeping" walls and "blood soaked" riches. Each wife had a time. The first was "dawn," the second "noon," the third was "evening," and wife number four embraces her fate eloquently as "night" to march off stage with the rest of the doomed wives and "all shall be darkness, darkness, darkness."

Erwartung is a one-woman opera. At least she is the only one singing, the stage is full of people though, moving, dancing, and rolling though this dark tale. The story follows a woman who is on an internal journey, where time is fluid, searching the woods for her lover. As the opera progresses, she becomes more disheveled and more panicked as she believes her lover to be with another woman. Is she in an asylum? or Is she really roaming the woods? In the end, she discovers the body of her lover, did she kill him?

The staging was again excellent. The movement of people, furniture, walls, and trees reminded me of Salvadore Dali's art come to life. People were pulled from the wall and slid effortlessly off and under the bed and chair, the water was used again as the naked, almost dead lover rolled across stage, finally splashing into the pool with his last breath.

No, these were not uplifting pieces in a bright and cheery way. They were, however, thoughtfully provoking in a dark and soul challenging way. I loved them both, but I actually liked Erwartung better. I had thought that I might not like it at all and maybe would sit out in the lobby sipping wine instead, but it captivated me in a surprising and spellbinding way.

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