The Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall – Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Wagner & Debussy; Elīna Garanča & Christian Van Horn perform Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Wagner
Der fliegende Holländer – Overture

Debussy
Pelléas et Mélisande – Suite [arr. Leinsdorf]

Bartók
Duke Bluebeard’s Castle – Opera in one Act to a libretto by Béla Balázs [sung in Hungarian, with English surtitles]

Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano) & Christian Van Horn (bass-baritone)

Met Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 14 June, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

For its final concert of the season, the Met Orchestra arrived at Carnegie Hall in full force for music from three masterpieces of the mid-19th and early-20th-centuries operatic repertoire opening with an exhilarating account of the overture to Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, the legend of a captain destined to sail the seas until he can find redemption through the selfless love of a faithful woman. In addition to evoking oceanic tempest, the prelude serves as an effective summary of the narrative through leitmotifs: the menacing brass theme for the cursed captain; the fluctuating strings representing the turbulent waves; the gentle woodwind melody associated with Senta, the woman who saves the Dutchman. Yannick Nézet-Séguin led a brisk paced, transparent rendition of the powerful piece: the bright brassy flourishes at the opening, the strings’ whispered pianissimo passages, and the sprightly played spinning theme.

Next up was Erich Leinsdorf’s 1946 suite from Pelléas et Mélisande – Debussy’s revolutionary opera based on Maeterlinck’s 1893 symbolist drama of ill-starred love, the Frenchman a master at juxtaposing musical motifs with emotional expression over depiction of action. Leinsdorf’s arrangement features music from all five acts, drawn mainly from the interludes. Nézet-Séguin captured the sweep of the score while conjuring up the internal and emotive elements at the heart of the drama.

After intermission came a superb concert presentation of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Béla Bartók’s only opera, with a libretto influenced by Maeterlinck and an orchestral palette drawing on DebussyBased on a French folk-tale as told by the 17th-century author Charles Perrault the single Act chronicles Bluebeard and his new bride, Judith, who insists on opening the seven doors within his gloomy castle, each of which reveals a grisly secret. This performance began with a recorded version of the spoken prologue which invites the audience – in wonderfully aristocratic Hungarian – to ponder whether the stage action is happening in the real world or within our minds. Christian Van Horn and Elīna Garanča offered commanding portrayals, neither singer having trouble projecting over the orchestra. Van Horn’s dark and alluring bass-baritone proved perfectly suited to the enigmatic titular character. Seductive as well as frightening, he complemented his wife’s fluctuating emotions with ominous resignation as each of his gruesome secrets was unveiled. Garanča sang the wide-ranging, rhythmically challenging role of Judith with dramatic intensity, her bright mezzo and attractive lower range creatingan intriguing blend of inquisitiveness and apprehension. Nézet-Séguin led a taut and gripping reading while conveying the score’s volatile emotions.

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