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Bartok's Mandarin and Bluebeard in Cleveland (April 2016)

Bartok's Mandarin and Bluebeard in Cleveland, April 2016

Pretty remarkable concert last night in Cleveland, to be repeated over the next few nights, so I would recommend anybody around here experience it. That is, if you like horror stories. Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin ballet is about a hooker and murder, and is probably his most unrelenting orchestral piece when it comes to dissonance. Bartok's opera, Bluebeard's Castle, is all darkness and despair without a happy ending. See, doesn't this sound groovy?

The orchestra's conductor/music director, Welzer-Most, led all the forces beautifully. And there were plenty to lead. Our local Chicago bunch, the Joffrey Ballet, came east and danced the Miraculous Mandarin, and dancers we're also inserted into the opera as Bluebeard's three "ex-wives." Staging was sparse but effective, the dancing as terrific as one would expect. The orchestra was stupendous. Bass Mikhail Petrenko and soprano Katarina Dalayman did a great job with their voices, and with their acting too. I was glad to see Bluebeard portrayed, not as a total villain, but a somewhat tragic protagonist who, once again, can't avoid tragedy, as his new wife learns that curiosity killed the cat. This actually should have been programmed on Halloween. Anyway, great night.

Our friend and host Betty is as remarkable as the concert itself. She was in the first Tanglewood summer program, with fellow students such as Leonard Bernstein. (Betty quips that she was the only one in the program without any talent.) She is a Bartok fan, and happens to be 100 years old, with a mind unaffected by age.

These are a couple of pictures of the stage being prepared for the first half, and then the second half of the concert-ballet-opera.

The Mandarin and Bluebeard are a perfect match for an all Bartok night because they are so different from one another, the brutal Mandarin early, and Bluebeard from full maturity, but masterpieces both.

I thought the minimalist staging was perfect, and imaginative. Judging by the glances shared by the couple in front of us, upper age bracket, they were scandalized by the Miraculous Mandarin's tale of prostitution and torturous murder and hot sex, somewhat graphic -- for "ballet" anyway -- in the portrayals of carnal lust. The couple were not there after the first half and missed Bluebeard.

And as for Bluebeard, one of the people who I went with, Bill Hinchliff, noticed, in that moment when the 5th door is opened onto the at-first magnificent kingdom, beginning with Judith's scream as she faces the audience, and those massive C major chords go up, and that final curtain comes down and we see the orchestra in full for the first time, Bluebeard conducting vigorously, facing the audience, from behind some of the orchestra, along with Weltzer-Most facing the orchestra, and they really were as if the apparent magnificence of the kingdom was delivered by the real life magnificence of the Cleveland Orchestra. Really amazing stuff, and Thank You again Betty!

The Severence Hall stage prepared for the first half Miraculous Mandarin.

The Severence Hall stage being prepared for the second half Bluebeard's Castle.

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