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Double Feature Operas Live in HD

A preview of “Iolanta” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” by The Met at the USCB Center for the Arts
Wednesday, February 25, at 1 p.m.

By Alan Schuster

First up on-stage for the two one-act performances will be Tchiakovsky’s “Iolanta” which becomes a unique and challenging role for the dynamic diva, Anna Netrebko. Iolanta is blind. Equally distinctive is Bela Bartok’s chilling and intriguingly-crafted “Bluebeard’s Castle” which takes place in a gloomy castle with seven locked doors and only two singing characters on stage throughout the act. Mariusz Trelinski, the artistic director for these dramatic presentations, defines them this way: “Both are very black and white, partly because they have to do with darkness and light, and partly because these backgrounds allow their female protagonists to stand out.”

Iolanta, born blind,  is a beautiful princess whose protective father, King Rene, has placed her in the loving care of  servants in a secluded garden. Not only blind, she has never been made aware of the meaning of sight. One day, Rene arrives with a doctor who thinks that Iolanta can be cured, but only if she is told of her disability. Rene says no.

Robert, her future husband by an arranged engagement, arrives with his friend Vaudemont. When they see Iolanta, Robert doesn’t realize that she is his betrothed and besides, he is in love with someone else.

Vaudemont, however, is entranced by her beauty. Later when he asks her to give him a red rose as a keepsake and Iolanta hands him a white one twice, he realizes that she is blind. René overhears Vaudémont talking to her and is furious with him for revealing the secret to her. With no will of her own, Iolanta doesn’t even know if she wants to have sight. When the doctor tells Rene that only by awakening her desire to see can a change be possible, Rene finally agrees. The treatment works and Iolanta gains sight and Rene consents to her marriage to Vaudemont. But sight doesn’t bring Iolanta her expected deliverance. Now she can’t believe that the people she loves look the way they do. But her love for Vaudémont and the wedding ceremony subdue her fears.

Duke Bluebeard and his new wife Judith has come to live with him in his castle. She’s aware of terrifying rumors about him and even fears that she may never be able to leave, yet she decides to go forward. They enter the castle and Judith confesses her love for Bluebeard, believing that it will help lighten up his gloomy existence. She repeats her profession of love, insisting that the locked doors to seven rooms in a huge, dark hall must be opened. The first one is a torture chamber, the second an armory. These rooms terrify her. The next doors conceal a treasury and a garden. Then Bluebeard shows her a window to his empire, with ruins and blood everywhere: on lands, weapons, flowers, jewels. But she doesn’t want to yield to Bluebeard who says, “Love me” and “Ask no questions.”

Instead, she pleads for him to open up to her, and reveal his inner self and fears. She firmly demands that the remaining two doors be opened. The sixth door, which conceals a sea of tears, is where Judith reaches the limit of knowledge, leaving only the final door. Behind it is a space beyond life where Bluebeard has concealed his three previous wives. Bluebeard explains that he found the first at sunrise, the second at noon, and the third at sunset. Judith, his fourth, was found at midnight, and will now become queen over them. She passes through the door and joins them, becoming a part of Bluebeard’s space forever as the door closes.

Reviews of earlier performances by the N.Y. Times and Wall Street Journal include these comments. “Tchiakovsky’s music for Iolanta is wistful, tremulous and full of yearning… Ms. Netrebko communicates through her bittersweet singing, yet with flashes of vocal intensity” (NYT). “Ms. Netrebko embraced the title role with inchoate longings with full-throated fervor…Tenor Piotr Beczala sang Vaudemont with pure exuberant sweetness.” (WSJ).

About “Bluebeard”, the NYT writes that soprano Nadja Michael “brings a strong, bright voice and visceral intensity to Judith. The bass, Mikhail Petrenko…has a grainy, villainous sound that mostly captures Bluebeard’s twisted malevolence. As for the WSJ’s take: “The warmth and richness of Najda Michael’s soprano and her sensuous movements seem to beat fruitlessly against the hard-edged cruelty of the castle rooms, each more devastating than the last. The orchestra, under Valerie Gergiev, is like a fierce animal.”

Please note 12:30 starting time. Both operas are staged in 1940s settings. All seats are general admission. Adults, $20; OLLI members, $18; Students, $10. Or order online at  www.uscbcenterfor thearts.com. Box office opens at 11:30 a.m.: 843-521-4145.

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