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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Bluebeard/Barbe Bleue/Ritter Blaubart (1866)
Hanns Nocker (tenor) - Bluebeard; Anny Schlemm (mezzo) - Boulette; Werner Enders (baritone) - King Bobèche; Ruth Schob-Lipka (mezzo) - Queen Clémentine; Ingid Czerny (soprano) - Princess Hermia; Manfred Hopp (tenor) - Prince Saphir; Rudolf Asmus (baritone) - Popolani
Berlin Komische Oper Chorus and Orchestra/Karl-Fritz Voigtmann
rec. DEFA Studios Babelsberg, Potsdam, Berlin, 1973
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101293 [139:00]
Experience Classicsonline


Komische Oper had staged a new German stage production of Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard) before this film version was made. In making the film, director Walter Felsenstein made the decision that it needed to be essentially a stage production where asides are sometimes made to a viewing audience, but the device of film is used to show detail (close-ups). A departure from the norm was the decision to write in a Prelude where the viewer sees the film studio presentation put together, flats put in position, properties placed, and camera moved into position so that the viewer appreciates the context in which the performance takes place. The performance within a performance is true for the two main exterior and throne room interior scenes, but the cellar/dungeon/mausoleum scene is taken as real (no studio context) and this heightens the dramatic strength of the action. So we have variations on a make-believe situation.

The plot concerns Bluebeard who is in search of a sixth wife to replace the previous ones who have mysteriously died. He decides to select his new wife by holding a lottery amongst the villagers. This scene provides excellent choreography of activity as the excited villagers put their names in a basket to be selected as the Rose Maiden. Boulette a distinctly middle-aged herdswoman with a sharp tongue is chosen much to Bluebeard’s later displeasure when she is outspoken at Court.

A flamboyant court scene provides eccentric (Osbert Lancaster style) caricatures of courtiers and their wives showing respect to their dotty King. For me the King was overplayed and with his cackling voice became tiresome. In a ‘rat-a-plan’ interruption he sounded like a barking dog - absurd rather than comic. It is here that Boulette convincingly annoys Bluebeard as she loudly and frankly criticizes the King during an excellently choreographed hand-kissing ceremony. Bluebeard now instructs his alchemist, Popolani to prepare a poisonous draught, The alchemist gets to work but provides a sleeping draught instead and although he convinces Bluebeard that his new wife is dead we find she recovers to join the other ‘dead’ wives. Along with men the King has wrongly imprisoned they decide to thwart Bluebeard before he can marry his seventh wife: the Princess was that day to be married to a Prince. The crew appear at Court in the guise of gypsies who drive Bluebeard in total embarrassment away from his intention. The scene is convincingly played and I found this gypsy disguise more appropriate than the chefs and cooks disguise used in the Buxton Festival production (2007).

Helga Scherff’s costumes are very fitting- rustically dressed country folk, eccentric courtiers in oversized frock coats and leg contoured tights. Bluebeard appears with exaggerated collar and balloon britches and sleeves. The elegantly dressed queen, princess, and prince give good contrast to the jester attire of the King.

The film transfer I notice is colourised and yet I wonder whether the correct display of skin tones yet faded pastel colours elsewhere was deliberate or is due to unstable dyes in the film stock over thirty plus years. Whatever the reason I found the result quite appealing. More importantly no attempt has been made to create a 16:9 format from the 4:3 academy ratio original. Too often television archive material is cropped to fit modern wide-screen resulting in the destruction of composition carefully arranged by the cameraman.

The singing is strong throughout and the orchestral and voice recording is good; yet a wrong sound perspective is provided for the chorus: recessed in recording when filmed in close-up. There is excellent matching of acoustic between the mimed singing and their studio speech. This is not always found in film productions.

A second disc is included. This contains interviews with interesting content - as voice-overs to appropriate stills. Sections of script linked to video sequences of a 1960s televised stage performance are provided along with layout designs and sketches of the excellent costumes. I notice that many of the cast are the same who appear in the studio film. A sequence showing the programmes is also included: apart from the front covers being of interest perhaps the inclusion of unreadable internal pages will be found unhelpful.

Subtitles are available in English, German, French and Spanish as well as the Menu pages. Detailed notes on the opera and director are included. This is one of seven Felsenstein operas transferred to DVD by ArtHaus Musik, and perhaps the most original. Arthaus have also produced a 12 DVD Walter Felsenstein Edition (101305). Across 12 DVDs it features the seven filmed Komische Oper Felsenstein productions between 1956 and 1976: Beethoven Fidelio (1956), Janáček The Cunning Little Vixen (1965), Mozart Don Giovanni (1966), Verdi Otello (1969), Offenbach Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) (1970), Offenbach Barbe-bleu (Bluebeard) (1973), Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1975-76).

Raymond J Walker



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