Dukas: Ariane et Barbe-bleue
It would be wonderful to give this a heartfelt welcome. Sadly, this first appearance on DVD of Dukas’s exquisite masterpiece misfires in several key respects of the drama. Claus Guth sets the work in a suburban house rather than a castle, alluding to high-profile real-life cases of women being held against their will, Bluebeard’s former wives being mentally broken with all manner of tics. An interesting idea, perhaps, but it creates repeated absurdities with all the mentions of the drawbridge and moat. Moreover this scenario, which suggests anonymity and unaware neighbours, sits awkwardly with the opera’s angry peasant mob. They are glossed over.
Crucially, Guth underplays the symbolism of colour and Bluebeard’s riches. The wives are dressed in identical white, which seems clever except that Dukas is careful to paint their individuality. Ultimately, there are too many silly moments, such as when Bellangère asks ‘do you like this opal and amethyst necklace’ while clearly holding a ring which is neither. It says much about the current state of opera direction that the initial response is that it could have been worse.
This is all the more frustrating as it is musically very good indeed. Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet copes well with the extreme demands of Ariane, while Patricia Bardon is excellent as the nurse and it is wonderful to have José van Dam for Barbe-Bleue’s handful of lines. Most of all, Stéphane Denève’s pacing and handling of orchestral texture are spot-on. One to hear with the screen off.