Iolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle • Met Opera • January 29 2019


A Philip Johnson Glass house that kept rotating. Sometimes characters had to step through the single door in its backwall to get into it, sometime not.  Sonya Yoncheva, in a mini night dress and a wig or hairdo that made her look like she just stepped out of a shower, seemed a bit hesitant in her voice and utterly hesitant in her physicality, stumbling around like someone blindfolded as part of a game, rather than a genuinely blind person who would have developed a natural sense of balance and ease. Clearly there was no intelligible movement or body language coaching for anyone in this production, so only the bass-baritones came across as convincing, because their slow and heavy singing parts naturally encouraged a calm demeanor. The rest, with the exception of some “choreographed gestures, none of them suitable either, were left to their own devices, leading to irritating modern gestures, like Matthew Polenzani and Alexey Markov literally high-fiving each other like two dudes in a bar. 19thcentury costumes mixed with H&M skiing fashion. The young nuns moving like sex kittens with a sadistic streak in a French B-movie. all of agonizingly distracted from the finesse of the music. The scrim, used for extremely pedestrian and heavy-handed video projections,  made me feel like Iolanta for the entire evening: I cannot see! It never came off, as it should have –  the moment Iolanta regained her sight. At the very odd happy end, an army of extras stormed the stage, supposedly nuns but looking in fact like the waiters from the Grand Tier restaurant assembled for a photo op. Everyone say “cheese.”

Bluebeard’s Castle

Both Gerald Finley and Angela Denoke understand the physicality of their roles.  I feel that they used their own instincts in the details, for whenever there were moments that were clearly choreographed, it worked less well, felt forced, put upon. The use of recorded sound and projections unnecessary, annoying.  How can a director use the sound of water waves when the composer in fact conjured it so much better in his music (the rippling of the waves in the lake of tears section)? The entire production full of visual film quotes, from Hitchcock to Madonna videos or rather, unfortunately, Lady Gaga videos. The last tableau utterly puzzling with bad Pina Bausch pastiche (women with lose hair frantically running around among the trees and a half-buried mannequin). Finley absolutely wonderful, brooding, sexy. Denoke sultry and without constraints. But the entire production is taking everything literally, not once making an attempt to show that the Castle and its doors is merely symbolic, that this is not a Horror story but a story about a developing relationship between a dominant alpha type and a partner who resists playing the submissive role, both of them jostling for power, the alpha slowly opening up to show his dark side.