Notes and Editorial Reviews
Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek (1860-1945) is known today almost exclusively as the composer of the overture to Donna Diana, which occasionally is used as a concert curtain-raiser. On the evidence of this opera, we are missing out on some remarkable music. Reznicek will remind listeners of Schreker and/or Strauss and/or Wagner, but his sense of drama and concision is unique to him. Almost 30 minutes of this 130-minute opera consists of purely orchestral interludes, which in addition to allowing scene changes, keep the mood of the piece alive--besides being handsome, richly orchestrated pieces in their own right. The whole is dark-hued and driven, and I mean this last word in the most complimentary way.
This opera, on the familiar
Bluebeard-kills-his-wives theme, was premiered in Darmstadt in 1920. Bluebeard is clearly insane from the start, babbling--at times incoherently--about nature, the sun, the "black, miry" pond on his property into which he tossed his first (unfaithful) wife, and death ("Every knife reveals the riddle of blood"; "Long live our corpses!"). At the start he marries a young girl named Judith, son of Nikolaus and sister of Werner, none of whom seem to notice that he's nuts--and this, despite his telling the two men not only about the murder of his first wife, but that "My mother pampered me and my father whipped me and together they ruined me for life."
Back at his gloomy castle he and Judith enjoy life until he announces that he must go away, leaving her with his blind servant, Josua, and a key to a room she must not enter--the room that houses the heads of his first five wives (to whom he speaks and plays the violin in Act 1). Of course she disobeys, and when he returns and sees the key, which is stained with ineradicable blood, he kills her like the others. At her funeral, Bluebeard seduces her sister Agnes, and she joins him at his castle. Josua, clearly tired of all this morbidity, sets fire to the castle to head the inevitable murder off at the pass--but this prompts our looney hero to tell Agnes what he did to Judith, upon which she throws herself into a ravine while he is left to incinerate. The musical tension never flags, the vocal lines, while not attractive in themselves, are expressive and impressive (and difficult), and if Reznicek were more interested in melody this would be a hands-down masterpiece. The only flaw is a lack of tunes; onstage this must be simply grand.
Mikhail Jurowski turns this into a forwardly propelled, exciting ride, and his orchestra rips into the lush score with fire and plays beautifully. The singing is splendid, with David Pittman-Jennings in the title role turning in a performance that is almost visible. Bluebeard rants and hollers and is so filled with horror that it's amazing Pittman-Jennings doesn't turn the role into caricature; indeed, we believe him and can only admire the stamina in his Wagnerian-sized and -toned baritone.
Celina Lindsley as Judith and Andion Fernandez as Agnes should have exchanged roles; more tenderness is needed in the former than Lindsley can muster, but she's into the part and, I guess, Fernandez's vulnerability makes her situation all the more pathetic. Victor Sawaley's tenor is expressive as Josua, and his big "fire" aria--arguably the only set-piece in the opera--is suitably manic. The others are equally colorful and real, and in their five-minute scene the two graverobbers (who notice that Judith's body is missing a head) are almost comic relief. The sound is as big and real as the performance. This is a terrific surprise.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Ritter Blaubart by E. Nikolaus von Reznicek
David Pittman-Jennings (Baritone),
Arutiun Kotchinian (Bass),
Celina Lindsley (Soprano),
Robert Wörle (Tenor),
Andion Fernandez (Soprano),
Victor Sawaley (Tenor),
Carsten Sabrowski (Bass),
Johannes Schmidt (Bass),
Peter Maus (Tenor)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1917; Berlin, Germany
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