Review: A Double Bill at the Met Opera, Bleakly Gray as Winter | Modern Society of USA

Review: A Double Bill at the Met Opera, Bleakly Gray as Winter

Review: A Double Bill at the Met Opera, Bleakly Gray as Winter

In the gray depths of a New York winter, it was an aptly gray couple of days at the Metropolitan Opera.

First, on Thursday, the opening of a revival of the company’s bleak, brooding double bill of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” and Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle,” inspired by black and white film. Then, on Friday, Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande,” which, in Jonathan Miller’s staging, runs the visual gamut from slate to putty. Drab weather, outside and in.

But the sense of grayishness in the “Iolanta”/“Bluebeard” pairing — and in “Pelléas,” for that matter, almost at the end of its run this season — extended past the designs. Both operas were populated with intelligently, earnestly emoting singers whose voices were often unable to put across a strong sense of character or drama.

“Iolanta,” a fairy tale about a princess whose blindness is cured by love, is a tricky piece, quivering between tender delicacy and robustly tuneful grandeur. In his Met debut, the conductor Henrik Nanasi didn’t yet seem in control of this balance, and the score felt merely mild, without the feverish vividness Valery Gergiev brought to the company’s performances in 2015.

The double bill’s director, Mariusz Trelinski, slyly creates connection between “Iolanta,” with its triumphant ending, and the grimly pessimistic “Bluebeard,” a Symbolist drama about a very fraught honeymoon.

There are some scenic parallels, and the final beat of his “Iolanta” staging darkly suggests that King René — who has kept his daughter hidden for years, ostensibly for her own good — is of a piece with Bluebeard, whose desire to control a series of wives takes a homicidal turn.

While a virtuosic and difficult orchestral assignment, “Bluebeard” is also, in a way, more straightforward in mood than “Iolanta,” and in the Bartok, Mr. Nanasi more confidently elicited fluent, flexible playing, the winds slithery but strong.

In Angela Denoke and Gerald Finley, the Met has cast two perceptive singers as Judith and Bluebeard. Neither strained nor sounded ugly, but neither could summon the power to project over a seething orchestra. The result was a performance more politely eerie than properly harrowing.

It should be noted, for those planning evenings with lovers, that the run of this double bill ends on Feb. 14. What could be a more pleasant outing? “Kiss me,” Bluebeard orders his wife, not long before she drifts into the underworld: “No more questions.” Happy Valentine’s Day!

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