Bartok: Bluebeard’s Castle

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Bartók
WORKS: Bluebeard’s Castle
PERFORMER: Kolos Kováts, Sylvia Sass; London PO/Georg Solti; dir. Miklós Szinetár (film, 1981)
CATALOGUE NO: 074 3254 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 4:3 picture format)

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Bartók’s only opera comes to DVD at last, and in a classic version. Georg Solti’s Grammy-winning recording is among the finest – more idiomatic than some much-praised rivals both in his intense, atmospheric conducting (he was briefly Bartók’s pupil) and his native Hungarian singers, excellent in themselves and important in Bartók’s speech-derived rhythms. Here it provides the soundtrack to cinema director Miklós Szinetár’s vivid interpretation, capturing both author Balázs’s Pelléas-like mysticism and more contemporary psychodrama. The ‘castle’ into which Bluebeard leads his bride is a shadowy underground labyrinth. The ‘doors’ Bluebeard is induced to open reveal colourful surrealist constructs somewhere between de Chirico and Escher, rather studio-bound but effective, especially the vision of the former wives; Bluebeard’s kingdom is a smoky puszta sunset. Sylvia Sass, an unpredictable artist, is deeply impressive here, vocally incisive but sensitive and smoulderingly dramatic. Kolos Kováts, a stolid presence with an unflattering costume, compensates with a beautifully sonorous voice. Sadly, actor Nicholas Courtney’s sardonic Prologue, included in the original US release, is deleted, and the printed translation here is flat. Michael Scott Rohan