I have gone suddenly from never having attended an opera season opener--in San Francisco this is a very posh affair--to having been to two in one week: New York City Opera and Washington National Opera.
WNO opened with a double bill of Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. It is interesting to note that these two operas both premiered in 1918. There was a concern for continuity--both operas used the same huge spiral metal staircase (where are you going to put it?), the same chandalier, the same fluttering birds and the same images of ghosts. When Buoso dies at the start of Schicchi, his soul is seen ascending in an image that very much resembled the representation of Bluebeard's wives. The last piece of continuity is Sam Ramey who sang the title characters in both operas. He still sounds good, though I am hearing a wobble which he skillfully hides.
The presentation of Bluebeard was excellent, dark and mysterious. Bartók's music no longer sounds shocking. Judith, sung and acted marvelously by Denyce Graves, is a young woman consumed by curiosity. She cannot resist the impulse to find out if the rumors about Bluebeard are true. Once she discovers that they are, he strangles her.
A single large door represented the seven doors. My favorite was when the garden was revealed and it was part of a Rousseau painting. There is a Rousseau painting that could have worked for the moonlit landscape as well. Too bad they didn't think of it.
It was the best Bluebeard I've seen but not the best Gianni Schicchi. It has one good aria and a happy ending.
[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]