I said this last week and I’ll say it again: Go see director Robert Lepage’s take on the one-act operas Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung at McCaw Hall—and it doesn’t matter if you don’t like opera. (And it’s only two hours. As far as I’m concerned, that’s as long as almost anything should ever be.)
Lepage’s imagination works at full tilt with relatively simple stagecraft that pays off like some big-budget movie’s special effects. Bluebeard’s Castle begins with a tiny model of the menacing manse floating in the darkness before Bluebeard and his unfortunate new wife enter onto a forced perspective funhouse set that—along with a scrupulous use of shadow and some masterful blocking—makes the couple seem to change in size and stature throughout their wailing. They’ve got a lot to wail about since Bluebeard has a bunch of rooms that he’d prefer not to open.
While the world’s dumbest bride forgets that phrase about curiosity killing the cat, Lepage treats us to blasts of light pouring through doors, three former wives rising in red from a pool of blood, and a genuine feeling of get-me-the-hell-out-of-here.
But you don’t really want to escape because then you’d miss Erwartung, which features the final freak-out of a woman in a madhouse whose world literally turns sideways after the death of her lover (he, a tree, and her attending physician all appear to be stuck to the wall, parallel to the floor). And that poor sod, in one of the night’s more memorable images, expires in a beautiful sort of death dance that finds him rolling naked—full frontal at Seattle Opera! Get out the binoculars!—in slow motion all the way to the edge of the stage until his pale white body disappears beneath the floor. He’s only outdone by the doctor, who somersaults with his chair until he’s in an upright position that brings our “heroine” back into an upright reality. The show goes dark at the crisp snap of his notepad.
The music for both sounds magnificently unnerving in the hands of the orchestra and singers as you sit through all this thinking what other material you’d like to see Lepage get his hands on—like Dracula, for instance. Well, I sat there thinking that. You will sit there thinking that when you go. Because you must.