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The problem posed by Bartók’s symbolist one-acter, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, is not how to perform it, for this is a work that rarely fails in the theatre or concert hall. The real challenge lies in finding something to pair with it. Welsh National Opera comes up
with a novel solution – The Seven Deadly Sins (Brecht/Weill) as ballet chanté.
The contrast is so stark that you wonder why this solution isn’t more frequently adopted. For WNO it has the added benefit of being cheap. The Bartók staging, an excellent one by Willy Decker, has been borrowed from the Royal Opera, which originally mounted it five years ago, while The Seven Deadly Sins showcases Wales’s national dance company, leaving the singers in a largely static role.
But by sticking them in dug-outs front-of-stage and portraying them as commentators on a themed dance show, Roy Campbell-Moore makes them integral to his production. Anna’s transgressions are embodied in the choreography, an edgy and often funny exploration of body-building (Pride), domestic violence (Anger), peep-show culture (Lust) and the catwalk (Avarice). The designer, Jonathan Adams, works wonders with nine multi-purpose plinths, brilliantly lit by Malcolm Rippeth, with riotous costumes by Paul Shriek. The result makes maximum purchase from a minimum of resources, and though the tone is hardly subversive, it never seems less than salacious. The pivot around which everything revolves is Marie McLaughlin’s Anna, a Statue of Libido radiating glamour.
Carlo Rizzi’s conducting – quick-witted in Weill, impressively joined-up in Bartók – is another of the production’s successes, so that a relatively short evening feels substantial enough.
That judgment owes a lot to the terrible beauty of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, designed by John Macfarlane and rehearsed by Martin Gregor Lütje. The production leaves us in no doubt about Bluebeard’s abusive treatment of women, but its power (and that of the opera) lies in preserving the castle’s mystery and ambiguity – the real keys to Bluebeard’s prison of the mind. Suspense is stoked by a series of coups de théâtre, so that the entire performance, vividly sung and acted by Andrea Silvestrelli and Sara Fulgoni, becomes a stokehold of the imagination.
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