Hair-Raising Bluebeard Kicks Off CFA Fringe Festival
Bartók, Heggie, Nottage featured in 15th season
Béla Bartók’s eerie Bluebeard’s Castle, a one-act opera about a young bride’s ill-fated insistence on opening all the locked doors of her new husband’s castle, kicks off this year’s College of Fine Arts Fringe Festival.
The School of Theatre and the School of Music’s Opera Institute join forces over the next few weeks for the 15th annual festival. Inspired by a French fairy tale, Bluebeard’s Castle, in which the demonic Bluebeard taunts his trusting young bride, ties easily into CFA’s new yearly “keyword initiative” theme: for 2011–2012, violence. Sung in English, the two-person opera will be followed October 14 to 16 by Jake Heggie’s poignant family drama Three Decembers, an opera based on a Terence McNally play, and Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, the story of a lonely, illiterate black seamstress at the turn of the 20th century, running October 22, 23, 26, and 29. The closing production, Art Song Meets Theatre: Jake Heggie on Jake Heggie, concludes a weeklong School of Music residency for the prolific Three Decembers composer on October 28. All will be performed at the BU Theatre’s Lane-Comley Studio 210.
“This year’s festival has especially dynamic performers and musical events,” says Fringe Festival founder and Opera Institute director Sharon Daniels, a CFA associate professor of voice and opera. The small and intimate size of the performance space promises a “powerfully personal experience,” says Daniels. “Most seats are within several feet of performers.”
Described by Daniels as “hair-raising,” Bluebeard’s Castle premieres tonight, alternating two casts of accomplished singers, including bass-baritone Adrian Smith (CFA’12), an Opera Institute student, soprano Meredeth Kelly (CFA’10,’12), bass Heath Sorenson (CFA’12), an Opera Institute student, and soprano Celeste Fraser (CFA’13), who joined the Opera Institute this fall.
To depict, on a small stage, Bluebeard’s castle, with its many locked rooms, the cast of two will inhabit a representational set using swirling lights and a wall of steel battlements, says Jim Petosa, a CFA professor and director of the School of Theatre. “This little duo of an opera is so nuanced in its psychology,” says Petosa, who is directing Bluebeard along with music director William Lumpkin, a CFA associate professor and Opera Institute music director. “One great fun thing is getting the castle to be an extension of Bluebeard’s personality. We use a lot of Clive Barker–like idioms to enhance the psychosexual nature of these two characters,” says Petosa. “And it ain’t pretty.”
The 90-seat Lane-Comley Studio 210 lends an intimacy to the drama that wouldn’t be possible on a grand opera stage, notes Petosa. “You can’t hide behind the magnitude of the production. You remove the protections, and the performers are laid bare in a way that’s extremely vulnerable,” he says. “There’s a level of generosity required.” As for the theme of violence, most opera deals with behavior extremes, he says, whether romantic, violent, or farcical. But Bluebeard depicts a manipulative violence committed by a psychopath, who, according to Petosa, might remind students of the Showtime TV drama Dexter. “The violence of Bluebeard is clinical, and therefore more harrowing than other kinds of violence,” he says. “It’s violence born of design, not of passion.”
Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers is a one-act opera in which long unspoken family truths are revealed between a famous actress and her two grown children. Based on an unproduced play by four-time Tony award winner Terence McNally (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Master Class, The Lisbon Traviata), the opera features a libretto by Gene Scheer. Guest director Tomer Zvulun, who has a long history of collaboration with the Opera Institute, has been a stage director of operas around the world, including a recent highly praised production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) at the Cincinnati Opera, and is entering his fifth season as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company’s directing staff.
Intimate Apparel, directed by Judy Braha (CFA’08), a CFA assistant professor of directing and acting, marks the second BU Theatre staging of a play by Lynn Nottage, whose Pulitzer Prize–winning Ruined had a critically acclaimed run there as part of the Huntington Theatre Company’s 2010–2011 season. Based on the life of Nottage’s grandmother, Intimate Apparel is the story of an African-American designer who creates intimate apparel for New York society ladies and prostitutes alike, and what happens when her life becomes intertwined with the lives of her clientele. Variety calls the play “thoughtful, affecting,” and a “poignant commentary on an era when the cut and color of one’s dress—and, of course, skin—determined whom one could and could not marry, sleep with, even talk to in public.”
“It’s a play I have wanted to do for a number of years,” says Braha. Set in a series of New York City boudoirs, “the play is delicate, layered, and amazingly specific,” she says. “It takes these seemingly stereotypical characters from the world of 1905 and humanizes them in an incredibly detailed way.”
Bluebeard’s Castle is being performed tonight, October 7, at 8 p.m., Saturday, October 8, at 6 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, October 9, at 2 p.m., at the BU Theatre’s Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley Studio 210, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. All productions except Art Song Meets Theatre are $7 general admission; one free ticket with BU ID, subject to availability. Purchase tickets here or call 617-933-8600. Art Song Meets Theatre is free, but reservations are required; call 617-353-5201 for information. To get to the BU Theatre, take the T Green Line, E trolley to Symphony or the Orange Line to Mass Ave.2 Comments