Bartok: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (in English)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Bartok
WORKS: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (in English)
PERFORMER: Sally Burgess, John Tomlinson; Opera North/Richard Farnes
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 3133
Bartók’s opera was an obvious candidate for inclusion in Chandos’s ‘Opera in English’ series. Right from the spoken prologue (excellently delivered by John Tomlinson), we are drawn into the drama and its psychology, and the immediacy of the language during the opera itself vividly conveys not only the trepidation of Bluebeard’s new wife, Judith, but also the erotic charge between the two characters. Tomlinson is no stranger to the title-role, having previously appeared on Bernard Haitink’s disc with Anne-Sofie von Otter, and the Warner Classics release of Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s 2004 Prom performance with Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet. This new version based on semi-stagings by Opera North is splendidly recorded, and Farnes coaxes some superb playing from the orchestra.

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Sally Burgess makes a fine Judith, bringing out the firmness of her love for Bluebeard, as well as her vulnerability. Only in the quiet, awed phrases with which Judith punctuates the orchestra’s grandiose C major climax, as Bluebeard reveals the extent of his kingdom, do I find Von Otter’s interpretation of the role superior in evoking the appropriate sense of numbness and awe. As for Tomlinson, he is as commanding as ever, and to listen to this performance as a whole is to marvel anew at the richness and inventiveness of Bartók’s score. If you want a version in English, it would be hard to imagine it better done (and Mike Ashman’s perceptive booklet note is a decided bonus); but for the original language the EMI remains my benchmark.

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Misha Donat.