You worked closely with the Seattle Symphony’s Artist in Association, Dale Chihuly, to create the concert staging for this piece. Why did you ask him, specifically, to design the set?
I find Chihuly to be among the most creative artists that I know. He has extraordinary imagination and he is constantly pushing the envelope as an artist. My first collaboration with him was his remarkable sets for Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande that we did with Seattle Opera. At that time I realized that with the right repertoire this great genius could be a part of our musical world. I’m very proud of our collaboration and I believe the Seattle Symphony is the only orchestra in the world that has an artist associated with it.
This production of Bluebeard’s Castle uses concert staging, in which a pair of singer-actors sing in front of the set, with the Orchestra playing the music behind it. What makes Chihuly’s art and a concert staging of Bluebeard’s Castle such a good fit for each other?
Like Pelléas et Mélisande, Bluebeard’s Castle is a psychological opera. And, while Chihuly could do sets for an opera by any composer, these very psychological works lend themselves to his art. The opera is short — one hour, a single act — with basically a single set with seven doors. If this had been an opera with seven scene changes, it would be extremely difficult to do in a concert presentation with an important artist doing the sets. Since this particular opera is minimal in terms of the set needs, it seemed like a perfect fit for a concert presentation. We do a minimal staging — just enough to ensure the audience’s understanding and hopefully enhance its appreciation of a particular work. In the case of Bluebeard’s Castle, the real issues are the opening of each of the seven doors. Clearly, Chihuly’s artworks are his impression of what is behind those doors, and he and his team came up with a remarkable way to have each of the doors revealed to the audience.
There are two kinds of color in this production: visual and orchestral. How are the dramatic revelations of this story brought out by both music and glass?
In each instance, when Bartók reveals one of the doors, he illuminates those moments in a remarkable way, through orchestration and his use of harmony. The job of the artist is to reflect Bartók’s vision and, of course, the vision of the story. This can be very subjective. Or, it can be quite obvious. Certain colors, like the color red, would have many implications. For example: the color of blood. But again, it is up to the artist to make his or her statement and interpretation of Bartók’s use of the orchestra into what we call orchestral color.
When you began planning this collaboration, did you imagine the set would travel so far?
It was certainly my hope that this production would have resonance around the world. I believe, because of the quality of these sets, there is no better way to experience Bluebeard’s Castle than with the Chihuly Bluebeard doors. And it was always my hope that it would travel — it makes me extremely happy and proud that it has met with such great success.