Bart—k

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Bluebeard’s Castle
PERFORMER: Andrea Meláth (mezzo-soprano), Gustáv Belácek (bass); Bournemouth SO/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660928
These days, recordings of Bluebeard’s Castle more often than not include the spoken prologue. Béla Balázs’s words aren’t intelligible to non-Hungarian speakers, nor are they in themselves of great literary value, but they underline the psychological nature of the drama and the opera’s atmosphere of mystery and timelessness. The omission of the prologue in Marin Alsop’s performance may partly have been prompted by the absence of a libretto with the disc, though at budget-price it’s hard to complain – you can always download your own.

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As for the performance, it’s greatly helped by fine playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and Alsop’s sweepingly dramatic view of the score. The vocal contributions, however, are less distinguished. Gustáv Belácek is a tender Bluebeard, but ultimately rather lacking in authority; and while it’s good to hear a Hungarian singer in the role of Judith, Andrea Meláth is short on both warmth and dramatic intensity. Those last qualities are more in evidence in Bernard Haitink’s recording with Anne Sofie von Otter and John Tomlinson, and the EMI version also has superior sound to the Naxos recording, where the impact of Bartók’s sumptuous orchestral palette is somewhat blunted by the cavernous acoustic.

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Misha Donat