The Rite of Spring

Duke Bluebeard’s Castle / The Rite of Spring
David Gillard
Daily Mail, 13.11.09

Only two years separate the writing of these two barbaric, nerve-tearing iconic masterpieces (1911 and 1913). And hearing them side by side is a bleakly thrilling experience, especially when they are played with such searing orchestral intensity as they are here under the English National Opera’s dynamic young music director, Edward Gardner. Musically, it’s a terrific idea to stage them as a double bill. But, sadly, it’s one that ultimately misfires.

A truly scary updating of Bartok’s psycho-drama gets the evening off to a chilling start, but an inept and bewildering re-assessment of Stravinsky’s sacrificial ballet brings the final curtain down with a whimper rather than a bang. Daniel Kramer’s horrifying new staging of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle opens the door on a modern suburban house, not a fairy-tale fortress. And the terrible secrets of Bluebeard’s bloody past here have no legendary resonances. We are soon plunged into the ghastly, perverted subterranean world of contemporary monsters such as Fred West and Joseph Fritzl. Kramer’s concept is frighteningly compelling (the line-up of Von Trapp-like children incestuously fathered by Bluebeard is a grim coup de theatre) if horribly unsettling. Definitely not for The Sound Of Music brigade. The central roles are spinetinglingly sung and acted by Clive Bayley’s seedy, palpably deranged Bluebeard and Michaela Martens’ sex-object Judith, his latest victim.

What a pity that choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan and his talented Irish dance company Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre follow this with a totally naff new look at Stravinsky’s ballet about savage pagan rites. He sets it in modern, rural Ireland where a group of men and women congregate for what appears to be dog-fighting or hare-coursing (three women put on hares’ heads while the men are, of course, the hounds). There’s a lot of running and jumping, raping and killing, nudity and cross-dressing (the men eventually strip naked and put on frocks, don’t ask me why). Indeed, the whole thing is a dramatic and choreographic mess. An opportunity wasted.

David Gillard, The Daily Mail

Original article