Bluebeard’s Castle – Opera in one act to a libretto by Béla Balázs [sung in Hungarian]
Duke Bluebeard – Gustáv Beláček
Judith – Andrea Meláth
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 17 & 18 May 2007 in The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: February 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.660928
Duration: 58 minutes
This is a welcome and excellent budget-price addition to a market of many interesting and complementary performances of “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”. Whilst neither of the singers are particularly well-known names, they give thoroughly idiomatic and vocally strong performances and both provide some individual interpretative moments. Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra give a tense, dramatic and atmospheric account of the score, with notable clarity of texture. They are recorded in a reverberant acoustic and the balance between voices and orchestra is excellent with the voices slightly forward but not at the expense of orchestral detail. There is subtle movement of the singers across the sound-stage to depict the passage of the characters through Bluebeard’s fortress.
The brooding and always-ominous lower-string figures that underpin the score always sound out and provide a cushion for the woodwinds, brass and percussion to paint the distinctive colours that greet the opening of all the seven doors. The clarinet and oboe do wonders in bringing out the plaintive and mournful aspects of their themes and the brass its bolder and expansive ones, and the percussion succeed in adding the glitter and shine to all that is superficially impressive in Bluebeard’s domain. One becomes aware how the woodwinds define a warning to Judith as she hastens towards her doom.
The Hungarian Andrea Meláth sings Judith; of course she sounds completely at home linguistically. Hers is an ample mezzo-ish voice with a tense anxious quality to its timbre that is very appropriate for this part. Sometimes on high, a slightly obtrusive unsteadiness pokes is discerned and although she is generally sparing of full vibrato it does enter her singing in her middle register. Overall her sound is an ideal mix of the innocent and impetuous. She almost sounds unimpressed in her response to the expansive scene that greets her as Door Five is opened – an unusual touch.
Bluebeard is sung by the Slovak Gustáv Beláček. At his first appearance he shows some resonant and cavernous low notes as well as sound that is solid, warm and with a hint of grit to it. There is an apt sense of resignation in his line “Nem tündököl az én váram” (nothing can glitter in my castle) that lets the listener know that he’s been in this situation before and knows what is to come. Indeed his singing and interpretation is at its most impressive in the earlier part of the opera. Sometimes he lacks authority, such as his explanation of the expanses of Door Five, and his final description of his meeting with his now four wives is rather prosaic and lacking in impact.
Overall the performance is a strong one, if without the spoken ‘Prologue’, and certainly shows orchestra and conductor at their best. At budget-price this release can hold its own and would be a good recording for any Bluebeard novice, although the absence of a printed libretto is a shame, and the lack of track numbers in the printed synopsis is unhelpful.