Bluebeard’s Castle

ArtsWatch Weekly: Bluebeards, villain kings, black art’s soul

The feminine mystique of "Bluebeard's Castle," Shakespeare's "Richard III," the trouble with Tiger Lily, black art and meaning in America

The naked truth about Bluebeard’s Castle, Béla Bartók’s astounding hour-long opera that the Oregon Symphony performed Saturday through Monday nights, is … well, let Elizabeth Schwartz explain it, in her typically erudite program notes:

“Bartók worked on the opera over the summer of 1911, when he and his wife Márta spent their holiday at a Swiss nudist colony near Zurich. [Librettist Béla] Balázs, who visited the colony that summer, noted in his diary how the industrious Bartók would spend hours in the solarium, wearing nothing but sunglasses, as he worked on the score.”

Viktoia Vizin as Judith, with Chihuly glass, in "Bluebeard's Castle." Photo: Jacob Wade/Oregon Symphony

Viktoria Vizin as Judith, with Chihuly glass, in “Bluebeard’s Castle.” Photo: Jacob Wade/Oregon Symphony

John and Yoko have nothing on that. And in a way, Bartók’s curious compositional strategy made sense: emotional nakedness is essential to the Bluebeard tale as Balázs retold it. The opera has just two singers: the aging, mysteriously private Bluebeard himself, and his new (fourth) bride, Judith, who insists on bringing some sunshine into the castle, and her new marriage, by demanding that Bluebeard open the seven locked doors that hide his secrets. Maybe not the best idea. At a talk Friday night with symphony director Carlos Kalmar, Christopher Mattaliano of Portland Opera, and the Portland Art Museum’s Bran Ferriso (the show’s set included marvelous glass works by Dale Chihuly), stage director Mary Birnbaum talked about Castle as Judith’s quest for knowledge and openness, which Bluebeard is loath to grant, and I’m inclined to agree that it’s really Judith’s story. Contrary to popular opinion, her soul sisters Eve and Pandora seem the heroes of their stories, too, the ones who provide the essential spark of humanness: How can one be fully human without curiosity and the compulsion to learn? Remember: the last bee to escape Pandora’s bonnet was hope.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: If you build it, they will come (to Hillsboro)

Bag&Baggage takes a big leap, Bluebeard meets Chihuly at the symphony, Renée Fleming wows the crowd, a cat in a hat, the things August Wilson learned

Don’t look now (or do), but while the center of cultural gravity in Portland might still be on the downtown side of the Willamette River, it’s been shifting and expanding. The restaurant crowds started heading for the inner East Side a good fifteen years ago, and theaters escalated the eastward march. Things didn’t stop there. Immigration and population shifts created booming pockets of culture farther out, both east and west: the new Chinatown along the East Side’s 82nd Avenue, a Russian community along Foster Road, several Latino enclaves, a large Indian community in parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro, near the Silicon Forest. Suburbs have grown, and begun to assert their own identities separate from the city core. They’ve built or broadened their own cultural centers, from the nascent Beaverton Center for the Arts to established theater companies like Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Theatre and Tigard’s Broadway Rose.

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

While much of Portland Proper wasn’t looking, the onetime farm town of Hillsboro has become a city of more than 100,000 people, many looking for culture without having to trek to downtown Portland. Bag&Baggage theater settled into the suburb’s downtown core eleven years ago, performing sometimes on an outdoor stage and mostly in the Venetian Theatre, an old vaudeville and movie house. A little more than a year ago it bought an old Wells Fargo bank building on Main Street and began the long quest to raise $1.4 million to transform it into a new performance center.

Let Scott Palmer, B&B’s founder and artistic director, pick up the story from there, as quoted in a recent press announcement:

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