Chills, charisma – and Chihuly

The haunting and enigmatic world of Bela Bartok’s ‘Bluebeard’s Castle,’ with sets designed by Dale Chihuly at the Israeli Opera.

December 10, 2010 16:29
3 minute read.
Chihuly designed the set for 'Bluebeard's Castle'

chihuly opera_521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Israeli Opera presents Bluebeard’s Castle, Bela Bartok’s one-act opera, the only one he wrote. It was composed in 1911 and first performed in Budapest in 1918. The libretto was written by Bela Balazs and based on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale. A dark and highly symbolic piece, it is regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest operas.

The spectacular set for the current production was created by worldrenowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. Shirit Lee Weiss directed the opera, Eyal Levi created the lighting design, while young Israeli maestro Ilan Volkov conducts the Rishon Lezion Symphony.The opera features only two characters – the Duke (bass-baritone) and his new wife, Judith (soprano). Bluebeard brings Judith to his castle, which has seven doors but no windows. Wishing to dispel the darkness, Judith demands the keys to the doors and opens them one after another, ultimately joining the Duke’s previous wives.

Vladimir Braun and Svetlana Sandler are the soloists in the Israeli Opera production. They both came to Israel in the wave of mass immigration from the Soviet Union and were later accepted to the Israeli Opera, where they have performed quite a few important roles, also appearing abroad. Before immigrating to Israel, Sandler graduated from the prestigious Gnessin Institute and continued on to the Israeli Opera Studio, while veteran singer Braun already had more than 50 leading roles to his credit.

Friday afternoon, after an exhausting rehearsal, Sandler and Braun sit at the TAPAC cafeteria and talk about their vision of Bartok’s symbolic piece, representing the male and the female approach to the story.

“This is an eternal philosophic story: a man and a woman,” – says Sandler. “The woman wants to delve into the man’s secret, while he is not especially eager to open up. She wants to know whom he loved before her…”

“The Duke is obviously quite mysterious a character,” says Braun. “I see it as an allegory of a man’s life: birth, maturity and the decline. Judith is his last wife, who has followed him, leaving behind her beautiful home and family because she has fallen in love with him. He understands that this is his last love. He met his first wife in the morning, the second one in the afternoon, the third – in the evening. He meets Judith at night, when his life already nears its end. The Duke did not want to die, and he loved Judith more than any other woman. He did not want to show his entire world, but she insisted.”

“She really loved him,” adds Sandler. “She probably hoped to rescue this lonely man and bring some light into his castle, but there also was a touch of curiosity. So when he starts telling the entire truth about his life and loves, she desperately tries to stop him – but it is too late.”

They both agree that Bartok’s opera is “fantastic music with amazing orchestration.” Completing each other’s words, they say that “This opera is probably a difficult piece to perform but a sheer pleasure to listen to. In one word – a work of a genius. This is not what an average Israeli opera goer has accustomed to, but it is unbelievably beautiful, replete with rich orchestral colors.”

The Israeli Opera will present Bluebeard’s Castle eight times between December 15 and 23. In the other part of the evening, Israeli alto Edna Prochnic performs Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. Additional programs connected to Bartok’s piece are: Towards Opening (Saturday December 11 at 11 a.m.); Before the Show backstage tours (December 16, 18 and 22 at 19:00); and Opera Talkback (December 16 and 20).

For those who want to see more of Chihuly’s work, an exhibition of his artwork opens this week at the Litvak Gallery in Tel Aviv, a few steps from TAPAC.

For more information and reservations: (03) 692-7777.

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