OP0178. ARIANE ET BARBE-BLEUE (Dukas), recorded 2007, w.Botstein Cond. Leon Botstein Cond. BBC S.O.; Lori Phillips, Peter Rose, Patricia Bardon, etc. 2-Telarc 80680, Slipcase Edition w.Elaborate Libretto-Brochure. Out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 089408068027
"After falling head over heels in love with Chausson's L' ROI ARTHUS, wondrously performed by Leon Botstein and his forces, my delight over Paul Dukas' ARIANE ET BARBE-BLEUE blossoms upon each hearing. It is to my mind Dukas' most effervescent, vivid, emotionally penetrating score, with its staunch, almost morbid beginning (in the great hall of Bluebeard's castle where outside, the peasants vent upon the arrival of Bluebeard himself). Forget L' APPRENTI SORCIER for a moment and absorb the psychology behind the music (particularly in the first act). Here's Ariane, Bluebeard's sixth wife, who is strong-willed and determined to rescue the wives behind the unauthorized hidden door, striving for freedom all the same while eschewing the riches under the six ‘authorized’ doors. As Bluebeard discovers this, he seized her and tried to move her away from the door, only to be interfered with by the Nurse, who opened the gate to let the enraged peasants in. As Ariane and the Nurse entered a large dungeon behind that unauthorized door, they discovered Bluebeard's five former wives, huddled in the corner and dressed in rags. With defiance, Ariane smashes a window behind a bolted door and convinces the wives to follow her through the window and into freedom. But it's not quite so simple. After trying to restore their sense of self-esteem especially by adorning them with garments and jewelry from the bridal chambers, the wives decided to stay in the castle and tended Bluebeard, who arrived at the castle wounded by the peasants' rage. Ariane and the Nurse (another heroine in my mind) left the castle as the curtain falls. So much for liberation, but without vain.
Based on the mysterious libretto adapted from the symbolist play of Maurice Maeterlinck, ARIANE was written specifically for Grieg, who turned it down. Dukas, who fell in love with the libretto from the onset, began work on it at the start of the 20th Century and completed it in time for the 10th of May 1907 premiere at the Opéra-Comique in Paris (which had given the premiere of Debussy's PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE five years earlier). The premiere of ARIANE was a success and it found itself something of a vogue for sometime thereafter. According to Leon Botstein, Arturo Toscanini gave an American premiere of the work at the Metropolitan Opera and was held in high regard by especially Richard Strauss, who was notoriously critical of Debussy's PELLÉAS.
And it is Botstein again, and with the BBC Symphony, the BBC Singers, as well as the Soloists (particularly Patricia Bardon as the Nurse) who comes up huge in Dukas’ compelling score. I really like Ms. Bardon in her role; she' brings out the angst admirably and with that alluring command and beauty of her voice. Lori Phillips as Ariane is fine though not really that spectacular. A bit more of a theatrical approach and swagger would've been nice; that dash that would've make her role not just more compelling, but also more convincing. But for the role as demanding as this (which practically requires singing throughout most of the entire opera), Ms. Phillips steps up to the challenge big and with flexibility & colorations in tone as her role demands (let's face it, Ariane has been through a lot). The rest of the cast is as strong and distinguishing as it gets, given that six principal roles are for the female singers. But with all that's said & done, this well-recorded, well-documented, well-presented enterprise is totally praiseworthy in its own right. The recording quality is rich and generous and does full justice to Dukas' opulent, indeed, iridescent scoring, displaying a wide dynamic range, with impressive weight in the many fortissimo climaxes.”
- David A. Hollingsworth, 12 Sept., 2007