Tuesday’s lunch time concert in the RBA featured some of the people involved in Against the Grain Theatre’s new, updated version of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle which opens next week at the Fleck Dance Theatre. There was an excellent descripttion of what the project was all about from Gerald Finley (Bluebeard) and Stephen Higgins (conductor and arranger – the orchestration is reduced to a seven person chamber ensemble).
There was also some music from Gerald plus Charlotte Hellekant (Judith) and her cover, Jaclyn Grossman. Stephen and Holly Kroeker provided the piano accompaniment. First up was Jaclyn with two by Ilse Weber; “Ich wandre durch Theresienstadt” and “Wiegala”. These are simple, beautiful, deeply sad songs and Jaclyn sang them beautifully. She was followed by Gerald with a lovely account of “O! Du mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser. More Holocaust themed songs from Jaclyn sandwiched Charlotte singing, a cappella, a Swedish folk song.
Then I guess it was what we might call the “main event”. Gerald and Charlotte, with Stephen at the piano, performed the opening scene from Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. What’s really interesting (apart from some rather good singing) is that the reframing of the story to a contemporary one about dementia hasn’t resulted in a changed libretto. It’s in English of course but bar an odd word or two it’s a translation of the original Hungarian. I’m really looking forward to this. I love the music and a chance to hear it in a smaller space without the singers having to fight an 85 piece orchestra works for me (fn1).
Things finished up with Jaclyn singing three songs by Viktor Ullmann with Gerald closing out with Harold Arlen’s “Last Night When We Were Young”.
fn1: do wonder whether this isn’t the future for opera in Canada, at least outside the largest cities. I don’t believe that recycling the same ten or twenty operas with a full orchestra in an unsuitable venue two or three times per year is going to bring the seriously declining audience back and the economics are just crazy. Smaller scale productions of real merit that could be toured to more than one place just might make sense.
Photo credits:Chris Hutcheson