Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Opera for Dummies (Parte Due)

Last night the Mrs. and I caught the double-header of Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi at the Kennedy Center. First, Gianni Schicchi. Puccini debuted this one-act as part of a "trittico" of three short operas, though this was by far the best and the only to survive. It's a screwball comedy with a simplistic premise: A family in Florence is arguing over a will of a recently deceased uncle and decides to forge a new one with the help of Schicchi, the father of a girl intent to marry into this scheming family. Schicchi is performed by veteran bass Sam Ramey (not to be confused with Spider Man director Sam Raimi). But the star of the evening was soprano Amanda Squitieri, who plays the daughter Lauretta and sings one of opera's most famous arias, "O mio babbino caro." Squitieri, despite her small size, soared in her performance. She is a recent Rutgers graduate, has olive skin, big, bright eyes, and reminds me of a young Teri Hatcher. Yes, I am in love. With the opera!

Duke Bluebeard's Castle is a cautionary tale. It's dark and creepy. It's Hungarian (Béla Bartók's only opera). Bluebeard (played once again by Sam Ramey) brings his new bride Judith (the always alluring Denyce Graves) to his castle--a spacious but forbidding abode. I'm sure Judith figured this place is a fixer-upper, but assuming the market will rebound, she could flip it in a matter of months and move into a nice condo. Bluebeard hesitates, however. He tells her there are seven doors which must remain forever closed.

Nevertheless, Judith demands each one be open. Bluebeard resists but, one by one, allows his bride to see what lurks inside. It's not good: The first door opens to a torture chamber. The second leads to a blood-soaked armory. The third and fourth open to blood-soaked treasure and a blood-soaked secret garden. But the fifth door conceals a magnificent view of the kingdom. Still, Judith is disturbed by the dark clouds (a real shock considering this is Central Europe). The sixth door opens to a placid lake, though the water consists of tears. Prior to the seventh and final door's opening, Judith asks Bluebeard to tell her about his past loves and were any of the women hotter than she (the answer being yes if her name is Amanda Squitieri). OPERA SPOILER: The seventh door is unlocked and out come the ghosts of his past wives. And guess who is about to join them?

Two final thoughts: I guess it could have been worse. The last door could have led to Bluebeard's porno stash or his collection of snuff--very embarrassing. Secondly, the moral of the story is quite clear: There is no need to learn about your spouse's past, so don't ask!

P.S. Interestingly, both operas were directed by William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection.


Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention how sublime the music is in Duke Bluebeard's Castle.

(that really is my name)

Anonymous said...

If you are a Sirius subscriber they are running all of the MET Opera broadcasts (historical too) for the rest of the month. They started with the broadcast of the opera you were at last night.
Mpls, MN