Bartok and the Bavarian State Opera

February 07 2020

During a very quick 2-day trip to Munich, I was able to squeeze in a performance by the Bavarian State Opera at the gorgeous National Theatre. I was not picky on the performance since I only have two days here. I got a very nice ticket (fourth row, near the center) for a performance of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Bluebeard’s Castle. My luck wasn’t perfect; the next day, there is a performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute, but unfortunately it is a children’s only concert.

First of all, the National Theatre really is quite lovely. They have sculpture portraits of all the major music directors and influential operatic composers in the halls. The layout of the hall is very simple: there is only a ground floor, and then all the upper floors are box seats (I counted 4-5 floors). In sum, it is a very small opera hall.

The beautiful and ornamental National Theatre

I was surprised to learn that concert programs are not free (8 euros), and unfortunately they were only available in German. So I was pretty blind heading in to the performance. I am very familiar with the Concerto for Orchestra, but I was curious how they would integrate an operatic element into it. I was vaguely familiar with Bluebeard’s Castle (and its story about Bluebeard as a serial killer of wives).

(Later, I found out that the performance was conducted by Oksana Lyniv, and the performers were Nina Stemme and John Lundgren.)

We started the first half with a movie

The program started with the Concerto, and there was a silent video playing on a large screen on the stage. The video is set in modern times and begins with a mysterious man browsing through the website of an escort agency, eventually setting up a tryst with one of listed women. The woman is drugged on her way to meeting her suitor, and then we see that she has been bound and (possibly) tortured. There is a female detective that is investigating this woman and other women’s disappearances, and she finds that there is a pattern and all the missing women came from the escort site. She poses as an escort herself and is on her way to seeing the mystery man.

The video ends, and the performers on stage show up immediately (without intermission), and we transitioned seamlessly into Bluebeard’s Castle. The rest of the performance was anxiety-ridden, with Judith (the main heroine who has recently married Bluebeard) slowly discovering what’s behind each of the 7 locked doors. Finally, we of course come to the final room, where Bluebeard has imprisoned his other wives.

I think this is the single most interesting and memorable opera event I’ve ever been to. The first half with the concerto was legitimately exciting, with the video matching very well with the music. The Bavarian State Opera orchestra played really well, and it’s really the first time I’ve noticed an opera orchestra taking a front seat. The second half was exciting and dramatic, and again the orchestra shined during the climatic moments, especially the leadup into opening the last locked door.

Topics: MusicMusic:ConcertsMusic:Opera

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