Gregory E. Foster | Portland, ME, USA | 07/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself!....ahem, on to the review.
This recording is quite simply one of the most spectacular opera recordings of the last decade. Ms von Otter's Judith is, like nearly everything she has done, exquisite--superlative, finely nuanced, and immensely moving.. John Tomlinson's Bluebeard is damned fine, indeed, ranking with the best. And the Berlin Philharmonic.........well, they're the Berlin Philharmonic! Polished, refined, working and magnificently playing together with real bite, and also with the silveryest sheen on the strings imaginable. The honorable Mr. Haitink, as is his tradition, draws from them a magnificently interpreted and played rendition of this complex and wonderful score, and the technicians have captured all this in absolutely breathtaking sound for a live performance. All around, this recording gets top rating in all categories. It belongs in any opera lover's collection. I love this recording........and yet, I still go back to the old Ludwig/Berry/Kertesz recording on Decca from the 60's and I am not really sure why. Perhaps because I "grew up" with this recording or something.......somehow it seems "right". Truth to tell, they both should be in one's collection--one for historic performance's sake, and one for being a monumental performance by today's artists in modern sound. Enjoy them both, they're each excellent and truly worthy of your shelf-space. ~operabruin
A dark and brooding masterpiece
Bruce Hodges | New York, NY | 01/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Full disclosure: this is one of my favorite operas. My first exposure was the early recording with Boulez and Troyanos (still available), and I've heard a number of others, but this one must now take first place. One strength is that the spoken prologue is included by Sandor Eles, speaking in the original Hungarian. As he reaches the end of his introduction, delivered in delicately creepy Boris Karloff style, the opening music quietly begins, setting an ominous tone for everything that is to follow. Anne Sofie von Otter is magnificent as Judith. (Some may find her voice too light for the part, although I didn't.) The combination of innocence and increasing desperation is pretty terrifying, thanks to her vocal and dramatic skills. John Tomlinson makes a marvelous Bluebeard, singing to Judith with an almost reassuring warmth. Some may prefer a "rougher" Bluebeard, but I enjoyed the effect of his voice masking his real intentions -- until the shocking conclusion. Haitink's characteristic understatement works extremely well here, as he encourages the Berlin Philharmonic to ever more sinister heights. This is very much an opera that requires a brilliant orchestra in addition to its two stars, and here the Berlin ensemble just sounds terrific. One of the work's highlights is especially well done, when Judith opens the fifth door that reveals "all of Bluebeard's kingdom." The blaze of orchestral playing here is just spine-tingling.The sound quality is excellent -- recorded live -- and fittingly caps a project that does a grand job communicating Bartok's dark intentions."
Excellent recording of a forgotten gem
Merry One | VA | 03/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Bluebeard's Castle is not exactly one of Bartok's better known works, and it is even rarer to see it performed in person. I had the honor of seeing it just recently, and was so entranced by the dark tale that I had to get the recording too. This is an excellent performance of the one act opera. The opera is short, and very compact, and it has one of the tightest, most intense scores of any opera I know. The story is very dark, definitely not for the faint of heart, and is most reminiscent of the gothic tales of Edgar Allen Poe. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Bartok, as it represents some of his most sophisticated and rich music. It is more melodic, I think, than some of his later stuff, though not as accessible as Concerto for Orchestra. Still, this version does it justice, and I really enjoy listening to it!"
The Quintessential Bluebeard's Castle
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 05/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There is a magic in Bela Bartók's one act opera 'A kékszakkallú Herceg Vára' (Duke Bluebeard's Castle) that is difficult to describe. The work is for very large orchestra, mezzo soprano and bass and while it contains about as much drama as any Wagnerian opera, Bartok succeeded in intensifying this brief opus in one act and in doing so he created a masterpiece of what opera is all about - the marriage of music and drama, neither of which could equally stand alone. Concert versions are as thrilling as staged versions: it is the orchestra that paints the scenery and creates the atmosphere for this chilling story.
Bluebeard enters his castle with his newest bride, Judith. The castle is dark and dank, and when Judith spies a series of doors, her curiosity results in her pleading with Bluebeard to open each door despite Bluebeard's warning that she may not want to know what lies behind each portal. Judith begs him and one by one Bluebeard opens each door: the orchestra describes what is new to Judith's eyes - the torture chamber, the armory, the treasury, the secret garden, Bluebeard's kingdom, the door to the lake of tears, and the final door opens through which pass the spirits of the previously murdered wives of Bluebeard. Judith's curiosity has determined her own destiny.
There are several very fine recordings of this work, but no matter the previous favorite of any listener new to this 1996 recording of a live performance with Bernard Haitink conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with Anne Sofie von Otter as Judith and John Tomlinson as Bluebeard, this recording seems to be the zenith. Haitink brings out all of the Technicolor nuances of the openings of each door while keeping the brooding atmosphere of the castle's interior a stable platform for the magnificent, completely committed performances by von Otter and Tomlinson. The result is breathtaking, a bravura performance in which the kudos are equally shared among the singers the orchestra and the conductor. It is a masterpiece of creation, of performance, and of recording art. Grady Harp, May 07"