Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at SF Symphony

Dave and I just got back from hearing this. Wow! A favorite opera of mine, really wonderfully performed and sung. Just one more performance Saturday night! Go if you can!

It’s a strange one-act opera, surreal and hard to get a handle on, but one that I enjoy more and see more deeply into every time I hear it. Duke Bluebeard brings his new wife, Judith, home to his castle. The castle, she finds, is dark, damp, and windowless. There is a great hall, however, with seven large doors, all locked. Judith demands the keys so that she can open the doors and bring sunlight and air into the castle. Bluebeard refuses at first, but Judith insists, and he lets her unlock just one. And then just one more. And then another, and another. That’s it, the whole story, just the unlocking of the seven doors one at a time and discovering what lies behind each one.

The libretto is puzzling but it resonates deeply, at least for me, and the music is wonderful. I hadn’t listened to it in a long while and I’d forgotten how seriously creepy and chilling those harp arpeggios are when Judith unlocks the sixth door. Brrrr!

I’m told you can get tickets for tomorrow at close to half off if you order them on the San Francisco Symphony’s website and use the promo code OPERACASTLE50.

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Back to The Tempest

Dave and I went back last week to see The Tempest at CalShakes a second time. Wow! The show has really strengthened a lot since we saw it in previews, and it was good then. The production doesn’t have the intensity of the shoestring production we saw at Butterfield 8 a while back, but it has all kinds of life and color and spirit and magic. And clarity, too — I think this was one of the clearest and most understandable performances of a Shakespeare play I’ve seen. Definitely worth seeing the second time.

The Tempest at CalShakes

On Friday Dave and I saw the second preview performance of The Tempest at California Shakespeare Theater. Tempest is not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, but I thought this production was surprisingly playful and charming and a lot of fun.

The play is reduced to just eleven roles, and those eleven roles are played by just six people, five of them playing two parts each and the sixth playing just one. There are also three more actors dressed in black who are spirits assisting Ariel, but who speak no lines. The doubling of the roles is lively and fun and adds a bit of agreeable foolery to the play, which is so often done in a ponderous, portentous manner, or so it has seemed to me. In this production, the play has a whimsical lightness I haven’t seen it have before, and for the most part it suits the play well.

I thought the two standouts were Nicholas Pelczar and Michael Winters. Mr. Pelczar was especially deft somersaulting (both figuratively and, at times, literally) back and forth between the serious young lover Ferdinard and the drunken clown Trinculo, making two very different characters out of them and switching between them adroitly. Mr. Winters was just as deft in his own way, doubling as Prospero and Stephano and defining both characters very sharply. Either performance by itself would have been terrific; pulling off both in the same evening is remarkable.

And yet I felt all the same that that doubling, which kept Mr. Winters busy and required some quick changes of character at times, kept Prospero from having all the weight and power that he usually has. If only one part in the production is to go undoubled, I wonder why it isn’t Prospero, making use of the asymmetry in the scheme to put more focus on the character at the center of the play.

Instead, it’s the actor playing Alonso — a less important role than either Prospero’s or Stephano’s — who has no other part to play. What’s more, Alonso is played by James Carpenter, who has easily the most commanding stage presence in the cast. It seemed odd to me, and a missed opportunity to make better use of Mr. Carpenter. I wonder if there’s some technical reason I’m not seeing that it couldn’t have been Alonso and Stephano who were doubled instead.

Still, it was only the second preview, and things may have fallen better into their intended balance by opening.

The set and costumes and lighting and choreography (for Ariel and her attendant spirits) are all delightful — it’s an eye-filling show. The shipwreck at the beginning is a wonderful, imaginative, thrilling sequence. The moment near the end where Ariel is freed from her servitude at last is especially striking, bringing all those elements together for a few surprising moments of delight and beauty, and I’m not going to say any more about it than that.

More on An Enemy of the People and The Great Divide

I’ve looked at a copy of Miller’s adaptation now, which I’d never seen or read before, and I’ve added some more thoughts to my post about the play.

Short version: It seems to me that Miller’s adaptation is very different from Ibsen’s original in a crucial way, presenting Stockmann as seriously heroic where Ibsen presents him as comically misguided. So The Great Divide seems to be inspired by Miller’s adaptation, not Ibsen’s play. Whether that’s a good thing probably depends on how you feel about the Miller and Ibsen versions.

Eric Does Eric

Dave and I had a great time tonight at “Eric Does Eric”, a one-man show with Eric Ranelletti singing a dozen or so songs by Seattle songwriter Eric Lane Barnes. Eric R. is a terrific singer and actor, with an amazing command of detail and nuance. The songs by Eric B. are full of good things, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes very moving, and Eric R. made the most of them, shaping each of them into virtually a one-act play. A real treat from beginning to end.