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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Bluebeard at the Komische Oper Berlin

    Bluebeard (Barbe-bleue, or in this German version, Blaubart), opéra bouffe (or operetta) in three acts (four scenes), sung in German (in a translated version with textual adaptation by Stefan Herheim, Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach and Clemens Flick - some lines in French, and few words in Italian), with German and English surtitles
    Music by Jacques Offenbach
    French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on Charles Perrault's story from 1697
    Premiered at the Théâtre des Variétés, Paris, on 5 February 1866

    This review is of the first performance of the run, on March 17, 2018, streamed by OperaVision, to be supplemented by our in-person attendance to the last show, live on July 13, 2018 - this is the encore presentation of this production which is part of the Komische Oper Summer Festival that we are covering. The only change in the technical and musical staff is that the conductors are different, as noted.

    After 50 years using a legendary production by Walter Felsenstein for this beloved operetta that is very popular in Germany, the Komische Oper now has this new production by the same director who did what was called "an opulent and crazy Xerxes" last season. The singer manning the title role is considered to be a versatile character tenor; he is having his Komische Oper debut.

    This article is part of the Opera Lively coverage of opera houses in the German-speaking area of Central Europe in the Summer of 2018 - see the links to numerous other reviews, interviews, pictorial blogs, and other articles related to this coverage, by clicking [here]

    This new production is a tribute to the previous by Felsenstein (the founder of the Komische Oper Berlin). That older production was very favorably reviewed by Opera Lively [here], and it exists on DVD (filmed) with excellent documentation (a highly recommended purchase).

    Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin - CONDUCTOR - Stefan Soltész
    Chorsolisten der Komischen Oper Berlin - CHORUS MASTER - Jean-Christophe Charron

    Stage Direction - Stefan Hernheim
    Stage design - Christof Hetzer
    Costumes - Esther Bialas
    Dramaturgy - Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach
    Lighting design - Robert Pflanz


    Bluebeard - Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
    King Bobèche - Peter Renz
    Queen Clémentine, King Bobèches wife - Christiane Oertel
    Princess Hermia, their daughter, Fleurette in Act 1 - Vera-Lotte Böcker
    Prince Saphir, Shepard Daphnis - Johannes Dunz
    Popolani, alchemist in Bluebeard’s service - Tom Erik Lie
    Count Oscar, the King’s minister - Philipp Meierhöfer
    Count Mariza - Christoph Späth
    Boulotte - Sarah Ferede
    Heloise - Katarzyna Włodarczyk
    Eléonore - Georgina Melville
    Godfather Death -Wolfgang Häntsch - not a character in the original work
    Cupido - Rüdiger Frank - not a character in the original work

    Nothing but problems with women – thanks to the complete stupidity of his son, King Bobèche is desperately searching for his banished daughter in order to secure the succession to his throne. The shepherdess Fleurette is deemed to be enough like his daughter to do the trick, and is quickly declared to be Hermia and married off to Saphir, the dream son-in-law, at the royal castle.

    Bluebeard is also in need of a woman: already tired of wife number five, he sends his henchman Popolani, an alchemist, to search for a suitable successor, as he has done so many times before.

    Boulotte, a sturdy peasant woman, does not let the notorious womaniser intimidate her – she’s more concerned about the interminable tedium she’ll suffer at Popolani’s side, who for his own ends has sent her predecessors to their not-so-eternal rest.

    Led by Boulotte, Bluebeard’s former wives prepare to revolt! So much woman power will wipe the smirk from the face of even the evillest villain – or maybe put it there in the first place?!

    The Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard) of this fairy tale can be etymologically traced to the old French word Barbeu (werewolf), who might in turn reveal himself as a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The success of Bluebeard in decadent Paris during the dawning of the second imperial era is rooted in precisely this interplay between horror and comedy – one laughs at one’s own inadequacy as if one had already internalized Karl Kraus’ dictum: "Love and art do not embrace what is beautiful but what is made beautiful by this embrace."


    According to interviews with the Komische's Intendant Barry Kosky, this operetta is a criticism of the structure of power, from the top down, given that it did receive the seal of approval of the French Emperor at the time, Napoleon III. It amounts to social satire of the bourgeoisie and the nobility. The Norvegian stage director Stefan Hernheim adds that the operetta runs the gamut of comedy and tragedy without ever taking itself too seriously, in a sort of lively collage. He also talks about how sexualized the material is (and as we'll see, this production doesn't fail to mock this aspect, with the title character's costume coming equipped with a large blue phallus that is manipulated by other characters, on occasion). Offenbach even makes reference to the Emperor's sexual mores and womanizing behavior. Sarah Ferede, the singer in the role of Boulette, underlines that it is lots of fun to get to kiss several of the male characters on stage. Enjoy!


    Review of the performance:

    The first scene contains dense orchestration that already introduces the listener to Offenbach's considerable talent. Eerie blue lights and fog bring up the phantasmagorical atmosphere, enhanced by a grotesque Cupido figure, a dwarf with elongated arms. Skeletons are part of the decor. Godfather Death looks scary. These two characters are commentators of the action, added by this production, and not in the original work.

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    But in the alternation the stage director talked about, this is followed by a delicious light duet sung in a scene within the scene, celebrating lovemaking, by two additional characters, Daphnis and Fleurette...

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    Boulotte makes her entrance, and Sarah Ferede's singing is exquisite. She advertises that Fleurette goes around saying that she has brains but it doesn't stop her from being great in bed, but Boulotte, herself, is hotter. No one kisses like Boulotte. (A funny touch is that every time one of the female singers produces a high note, Godfather Death plugs his ears with his fingers, haha).

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    Boulotte aggressively tries to have Daphnis kiss her, but he runs away. We get to meet Oscar and Popolani next. While trying to explain his mission, Oscar adds "it's always better with music" before he starts singing (nice metalanguage). The singer doesn't disappoint. So far, all singers are excellent. Here, Popoloni on the left, Oscar on the right:

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    Popoloni needs to find a virgin to bring to Blaubart to be coronated as the Rose Maiden (with a good chance that the woman will become his 6th wife), while Oscar needs to find the King's lost daughter. Popoloni decides to pick a name randomly; village girls come running to give their names, with a first opportunity for the female chorus to shine.

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    Boulotte decides to enter her name too, and men accuse her, fingers pointed, of being out of her mind for trying to pass for a chaste virgin (apparently the young lady is quite promiscuous). We thus get the male chorus to chime in as well, and everything remains musically rather perfect!

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    Boulotte, showing lots of cleavage, remains defiant! She adds her name, and of course, is the one who ends up picked, to everybody's shock.

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    I'm wildly enjoying this ride. Not only the music is phenomenal (this is one of my favorite Offenbach operettas) but this production is tops!

    Turmoil ensues and the librettists make a reference to Papageno and Papagena. Popoloni has found the woman he needs, while Oscar is inclined to pick Fleurette as the prospective princess.

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    Fleurette manages to convince him that she is indeed the king's lost daughter, and once he declares himself convinced, he leaves, and Fleurette, now Princess Hermia, mentions the news to an overwhelmed Daphnis.

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    She sings, delighted, and sounds rather strident, but I believe that this is done on purpose. She gets a change of clothes, and a ride to the castle on horseback.

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    The procession passes by the place where Blue-Beard is with his men, and we get a first glimpse of the title role. Impressive singer, too, and a fine actor!

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    We can see, here, the, er... blue appendix I was talking about:

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    Blaubart sings (very well) of his lust for the new girl on horseback and his need for a 6th wife, and his men sing a chorus number with funny and well-executed choreography.

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    Blaubart says that while love inflames, marriage lames. We get to the one hour mark, and we've been introduced to almost all main characters, except for the King and the Queen.

    Next, we see Boulotte introduced to Blaubart, and while he had his eyes on Fleurette/Hermia a few moments ago, he is impressed with Popoloni's pick for his new wife, and sings of her physical attributes (calls her superbly built with a full bosom and a lascivious look - she seems less than thrilled with the choice of words).

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    Blaubart asks her if she promises to remain chaste; well, that, she cannot do, and she demonstrates it by trusting her behind towards his crotch:

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    Well, that convinces him, and he announces that he intends to take her as his wife, and doesn't waste any time producing a ring and getting it in her finger. She likes it, wants to accept, despite Popoloni's warning that she should be scared, given what usually happens to Blue-Beard's wives.

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    Well, she says yes, exchanges kisses with the nobleman, and they go on horseback to his castle, in the middle of a rousing chorus number (which mentions a gallop and reminds one of Offenbach's famous other one in Orphée aux Enfers) with some of the peasants walking backwards in another nice piece of blocking and choreography. This is lots of fun, folks!

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    Godfather Death doesn't seem happy with all this frolicking, and comes running, looking very much like the Grim Reaper, under some stroboscopic lighting effects, while he hilariously says "this operatta-happy tra-la-la is getting on my nerves!"

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    He goes on a rant, saying that these are shallow tropes, and we aren't reshaping musical theater, and should be aiming for a deeper understanding of the world.

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    His rant doesn't accomplish much, as he collapses and the dancing restarts, with Boulotte going for a riské move, using her scarf to polish Blaubart's phallus (you can barely see it on this pictur that follows) and the choristers engage in humping each other.

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    Everybody leaves, except Cupid tending to the collapsed Death. Cupid turns bitter, and talks about the relationship between men and women being a "dwelling place of pain, a ball of hollow joys, a stray deceiving light, an arena of gross pleasures, pierced by sorrow." Wow!

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    The orchestration becomes poignant, with melancholic melody for the strings, and Death wakes up, joining the declamation. It's a goose-bumping moment. "Whoever stops to draw breath must vanish with the air," they say, and go to the grave, but "love alone bridges the gap between being and non-being. Thus, like the scent of plucked flowers, something may survive after death."

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    After this poetic and tragic moment, Cupido looks at the public, saying, "There will be enough to laugh about. Act Two is about to begin." "Another act?" says Godfather Death, surprised. Cupido replies, "Yes, it's an opera bouffe in three acts!" Death shows irritation, but Cupido comforts him, saying "but in Act Three there will be murder and death aplenty."

    Very interesting! Wow (although none of this is in the original libretto). Cupido says "let's go to the castle" but adds "although there is no castle in Mitte." Everybody laughs, given that Mitte is the Berlin neighborhood where the Komische Oper is located, haha. They argue a bit, Cupido says it makes sense anyway because Berlin is the center of power, and second act begins (at the 1 hour 19 minutes mark).

    Let's pause this "play by play" description; it would be too long to continue it through acts Two and Three so I will reverse to a more global view once these roll in.

    After some official production pictures below (credit unknown, fair promotional use), we will continue the review in a subsequent post:

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    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 13th, 2018 at 10:43 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    In act II we get treated to more references to the here and now: chorus members come in with big cubes, and they are disposed on the floor in an arrangement that suggests the facade of the Deutsche Oper Berlin building, again drawing lots of laughs from the public. Next they make references to Mercedes Benz and McDonald's, trying to find a symbol to place at the top of the palace they are planning to build (a maquette is brought in) and things get frankly political, with the King waving in one hand the symbol of Islam (the one prominently displayed in Turkey's flag), and in the other one the Star of David, and both symbols are met with rejection and disgust - at this time I'm not sure if I'm on board with this, in terms of tastelessness. The King ends up choosing a Christian Cross to place at the top of his maquette, and he is applauded with a "Good choice, your Majesty." Er... what?

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    The wild references to outside material continue when Count Mariza suddenly sings a couple of phrases from Tosca. A reference comes to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (?), and The Gypsy Baron (which premiered 20 years later than this operetta)... and I'm starting to feel that this adapted libretto is trying to bite more than it can chew.

    Also, Act II gets a drop in pace with 14 minutes of spoken dialogue until the first musical number while we go through all of the above (material that wasn't in the original libretto), and strangely, when the Queen enters, the supertitles quit and she engages in a long dialogue with the King, in German, with no translation.

    The singer in the role of the Queen is significantly less vocally gifted than her counterparts with an unstable delivery, so the drop in quality in second act continues. The King has a raspy voice. Daphnis, now as Prince Saphir, sings a very shouty aria that doesn't sound very pleasant.

    At 1'45" things improve again when Boulotte with her beautiful voice comes back. Blue-Beard is already tired of her, and eyeing the princess as a prospective 7th wife. Boulotte gets to kiss the King and the Prince, and seduces everybody including Oscar and the women. Blue-Beard tells her to put her boobs away, which doesn't deter her. Debauchery ensues with everybody disrobing and starting an orgy under pink lights, which seems to delight Cupido who throws petals around. Simulated sex happens everywhere on stage, which brings the curtain down for the intermission. Here are some pics:

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    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 23rd, 2018 at 01:45 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Now we get to the crypt where Barbe-Bleu has supposedly buried his dead wives (as a matter of fact we'll soon discover that they are still alive), and we get a musical citation: a leitmotif from Wagner's Ring on the horn! The public does notice it and laughs a lot. We get a very nice duet between Barbe-Bleu and Boulotte, where he tells her she needs to die so that he marries his seventh wife, and she keeps teasing him by reporting all the times she's been unfaithful to him. Hilarious scenes follow, with Popolani only pretending to poison Boulotte by giving her a sleeping potion, and then reanimating her with a vibrator inserted between her legs, which is shaped like a banana and lights up. She engages in ecstatic dancing, with all the other wives joining her (they are rather cute).

    The women plot Blaubart's downfall, and we go through the final scenes: he threatens the King to get Hermia's hand in marriage, duels with Saphir, appears to kill him, marries a tearful Hermia, but gypsies come to entertain the guests: they are Boulotte and the wives in disguise, plus the men killed by the King (the Queen's ex-lovers), including Saphir who also didn't die. With Blaubart unmasked as polygamous, his marriage to Hermia is annulled and we get to the happy ending: the five wives plus Hermia marry the five men plus Saphir... and Boulotte forgives Blaubart and remains his wife.

    The last scene has melancholic music again, when Cupido dies and gets a flower from Godfather Death: marriage is the death of free love. The end.

    Curtain calls didn't get a lot of applause from the public. I wonder why. Did they find it all a bit over the top? Did they miss the older production? Did the political jokes fall flat? Did they resent the two added characters (which I personally found to be very clever)?

    Anyway, I certainly liked it a lot. Other than some 20 initial minutes of the second act which suffered with dropped pace and some shaky vocal performances, and other than some questionable tasteless choices (but let's give the production a discount: it's satire, after all), everything else was fabulous, especially the formidable singing and acting of the two leading roles, and the poignant moments between Cupido and Death added by this production. Not to forget, the piece itself is excellent, without the add-ons.

    The sets (rather simple) worked very well; blocking and choreography were good; lighting was decent (I think it could have been a bit less static, though - the whole thing is done in blue tones with a touch of pink); costumes were fine; acting was first rate; the orchestra and the conductor did well (they were not the focus of attention which in a sense is good, in this piece where so much happens on stage; the pit did not distract from it and made no errors), and singing was very good across the board with only a couple of weaker links.

    Overall, A+. Just a notch below perfection, and a very enjoyable show. This is a rather complex and long operetta, and Deutsche Oper Berlin tackled it with considerable expertise and professionalism. Well done!

    See more pictures, next.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 13th, 2018 at 10:27 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Below, more pictures from the last third of the performance.

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    The crypt

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    The five wives

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    Boulotte apparently dead

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    The light between her legs is the vibrator

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    The gypsies

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    The end of the gypsies dance

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    Everybody is unmasked

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    The new couples depart

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    Boulotte ends up with Barbe-Bleu although Cupido tries to dissuade her

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    Cupido dies

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    Curtain calls
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 20th, 2018 at 03:27 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Add-on, regarding the live performance on July 13, 2018, attended in person.

    Personnel changes:

    Boulotte, Stefanie Schaefer
    Cupido, Manni Laudenbach

    Blaubart's wives

    Héloïse, same one, Georgina Melville, but the others either varied a bit or weren't named before:
    Eléonore, Katarzyna Wlodarczyk
    Isaure, Elke Sauermann
    Rosalinde, Jana Reh
    Blanche, Angelika Gummelt


    There is no need for a full review of the live performance, since there weren't too many changes as compared to the online version I saw.

    Unfortunately all the updates are negative.

    For one, the sound capture by microphones helped these singers in the online version. Live at the theater I was less impressed with pretty much all voices, especially Vera-Lotte Böcker's.

    Then, Cupido was a much more interesting and tragic figure in the online version. Manni Laudenbach just didn't have the same dramatic intensity.

    Most of all, this piece relies a lot on how good Boulotte is. While Stefanie Schaefer did a decent job, Sarah Ferede was vastly superior in all aspects (singing, acting, and looks). This show was just not the same without Sarah.

    It didn't help that the jokes I found funny when I first watched it, were already known to me. I did notice a few more things (for example, I had not realized, the first time I saw it, that Felsenstein is quoted twice).

    The theatrical aspects of the ingenious staging were better appreciated live in the opera house, and of course the orchestra sounded better than online.

    But overall, the score for this show needs to drop, because the absence of Sarah Ferede really hurt it. So, I'm taking away the plus sign in my first score of A+ for the sake of not having Sarah, and I'm dropping it further to a minus sign, given that the live singing without microphone capture was actually a bit underwhelming (I was most impressed with the singing of the two leading roles online; well, the female lead is gone, and the male lead is good but not as good, live), so the final score is an A-.

    Of all the 16 shows I attended in this trip, this was the one with the most subdued applause. There wasn't a single person shouting Bravo!, and no one stood up. I think the public, like me, was a bit disappointed with the singing, and with the leading female role.

    I also learned from the Press Officer at the Komische that this show encountered numerous technical and artistic problems, and wasn't well-received by the critics and the public (people probably missed the Felsenstein production, which I saw on DVD, and did find superior to this one).
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 13th, 2018 at 10:24 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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