1 min

Canadian expressionism

The Canadian Opera Company revives its signature, award-winning double bill from 1993, Robert Lepage’s production of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung, with set and costume design by Michael Levine.

Associate director François Racine says every effort has been made to remain true to Lepage’s unique vision, but that the presence of different singers inevitably leads to different and exciting impulses for the characters.

The first opera follows Duke Bluebeard and his beautiful new bride Judith as she opens a sequence of seven forbidden doors in his dark castle. “Each door is a metaphor which maps directly onto Bluebeard’s personality and psyche,” says Racine. “It’s all about him: What is this person? Emotionally, we sense that the two characters are trapped in a relationship, just as they seem trapped in this space.

“In a way, the opera is about that point in a relationship when you want to see everything about your partner, but crossing certain boundaries becomes dangerous.”

Bluebeard feels claustrophobic, with its skewed perspective and roofed rake backed by a scrim, which effectively forms a little black box. By contrast, Erwartung, with its white scrim and open spaces, should suggest fresh air and light.

But there is a heightened claustrophobia in Erwartung that coalesces once we discover that we are locked into the main character’s personal nightmare. What is true? What is real? We don’t know and neither does the Woman [Erwartung’s only singing character, sung by viruoso soprano Nina Warren in her COC debut].

Lepage understands the complete musical and dramatic fusion within these two operas, and how this can be physicalized in their sets. “Robert Lepage one of the best storytellers of the country,” says Racine. “His tales are told with simplicity.”

Our 21st-century ears are well accustomed to both operas’ musical vocabularies because of the endless commercials and movies that have employed them for the past 50 years. Racine feels that in particular, Erwartung’s atonality is a prime example of the power of Shoenberg’s expressionism. “The music never settles, which works to underscore the constantly shifting emotions felt by the Woman.

“It triggers a direct emotional response.”

Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung play Fri, Sep 21, 25, 27, 30, Oct 3 and 6.