LA Opera’s Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle : One Amusing and One Thought Provoking

The LA Opera is offering clever and nontraditional productions of two short operas: Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, first performed in 1688, and Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, first performed in 1918.

 

A fabled love story

The shows come as a package from the Frankfurt Opera, and they are both scenery-less and memorable. Musically and thematically, they differ widely, although both are told as stories: Dido and Aeneas is presented as a fable, and the princess’s costumes – and at times cartoonish movements – help create a storybook atmosphere. Bluebeard’s Castle, on the other hand, is told as a moral tale in stark black-and-white, with only two main performers and no one else to blame but themselves.

 

If the two plots are compared in terms of their human relationships, we see the development of psychology, and in a way the advancement of women (although both female protagonists die at the last acts).

 

Bluebeard loves Judith but it leads to death

Both performances are to be lauded for emotional and musical expression. In Dido, the performers all sit in a row, put on silly facial expressions, and move and squirm and throw off their clothes. But they do so in perfect harmony expressing the simple feelings of the fable. Boy prince Aeneas meets girl princess Dido. From his first appearance onstage, with his good looks and wonderful baritone, Liam Bonner wins her heart, and that of the whole community. But later when the gods call him to duty, he forsakes her to answer his destiny.

 

The community is very involved with the prunes

The darling and sweet-voiced mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy is left with a broken heart. With no other possibilities in a princess’s life, she just gasps and gasps and gasps to her death. Her expiring this way was a fun convention. As the music gets softer and softer, she is still gasping. The orchestra actually walks out, and she stays on for her last breaths.

 

Relationship blues

In Bluebeard, an eager bridesmaid runs off with a mysterious, haunted man who harbors dark secrets. Determined to get to know and love every part of him, she drives him with pleading and coaxing to open the locked doors of the castle. He tries to avoid revealing anything, but her love overcomes his fears.

Judith fights for Bluebeard and all the versions of him

Even as he baulks and regresses, he gives in to her. Terrified of losing her, he keeps asking, “Are you afraid?” Although she keeps finding ghoulish evidence – bloodstains, walls that weep and bleed, and a lake of tears and garden of blood – she keeps challenging herself to be accepting of him and move on. Until it is too late.

Judith wants so bad to believe in Bluebeard's goodness

 

As the creepy voice at the beginning of the opera says, it is an old tale. Is it one of external or internal life? You decide. To me, it was very psychological. The fact that there is no castle scenery and that everything is so stark forces the mind to turn inside. Although Bluebeard is more or less a psychopath, yet we humans all have our hidden places and fear the shame or rejection we invite by opening the doors to show another human being.

 

Bluebeard up in smoke

Thematically, it’s deep. And this production is a tour-de-force for the two forces of yin and yang – bass-baritone Robert Hayward as the elusive Bluebeard and clear-voiced mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke as the gushing Judith.

The princess' subjects take on her emotions like puppies

 

In Dido, the fate of the characters is clearly in the hands of the gods. These overlords, along with the prodding of sorcerers and witches, can be mostly blamed for the failures of humans. In Bluebeard, fate is squarely in the hands of the mortals.

 

Trouble in paradise as Aeneas is called to duty

The LA Opera is in top form under Steven Sloane’s conducting. And none of the performers missed a beat under Barrie Kosky’s able direction of these two pieces. Chorus director Grant Gershon did a wonderful job with the crowds in Dido. Special mention must be made of the sorcerer in that opera, countertenor John Holiday, playing a female witch with amazing voice and comedy chops, along with his two great assistant witches, countertenors G. Thomas Allen and Darryl Taylor.

Awesome sorcerer and witches

 

 

Georja Umano is an actress and animal advocate.

 Photos by Craig Matthew for LA Opera.

 

Dido/Bluebeard is running for four more performances at LA Opera:

Friday, Nov. 6 - 7:30pm

Sunday, Nov. 9 - 2pm

Wednesday, Nov. 12 - 7:30 pm

Saturday, Nov. 15 - 7:30 pm

 213.972.8001

 

 

 

 

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