A suspenseful `Bluebeard'

BSO performs complex opera

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Fairy tales can get pretty rough. Bluebeard, he of the blood-soaked castle, seven locked doors and missing wives, is a case in point.

When Bela Bartok addressed it operatically in 1911, the Bluebeard tale wasn't just the stuff of horror. It became filled with heavy psychological implications that emerged as spookily as the contents behind Door No. 7.

In his hourlong, two-character Duke Bluebeard's Castle, Bartok created a major contribution to symbolist art, a work filled with layers upon layers of subtext.

But this important work is rarely encountered, making the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's presentation of it in concert form all the more welcome. Welcome to the adventurous, that is.

Turnout was thin Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, where conductor Kwame Ryan, who made a notable BSO debut last season, delved into Bartok's complex score with impressive confidence and an ear for both rhythmic pulse and suspenseful atmosphere.

Above all, Ryan drew out the score's extraordinary colors, particularly in the eerie orchestral shuddering that accompanies the opening of Door No. 6 and its lake of tears.

Peter Fried brought a hollow baritone, but considerable emotive richness, to the role of Bluebeard. Anita Krause, as Judith, the duke's inquisitive wife, used her mellow mezzo tellingly.

Ryan let the orchestra swamp the voices now and then, but otherwise proved supportive. The BSO sounded psyched, delivering the work's few fortissimo climaxes with particular power.

For balance, the program opened with the sweeter fairy tales of Ravel's shimmery Mother Goose Suite. Conductor and ensemble evoked this never-land with remarkable sensitivity.

The final performance is at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Meyerhoff Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. 410-783-8000.

NSO premieres `Rip'

For the first Family Concert of its 75th anniversary season tomorrow, the National Symphony Orchestra will perform the world premiere of Rip Van Winkle by Pulitzer Prize-winning David Del Tredici, featuring narration by Tony Award-winning Brian Stokes Mitchell and conducting by Grammy-winning Leonard Slatkin.

The new work is the first product of Slatkin's effort to enrich the repertoire of children's works for narrator and orchestra. Del Tredici, famed for a series of brilliant pieces inspired by Alice in Wonderland, is ideal for such a project, as he is the first to admit. "I'm the perfect one to do it," he said yesterday.

The Washington Irving short story about the long-sleeping Rip will be vividly depicted by Del Tredici's orchestration, with everything from bird calls to a rattling jawbone.

Del Tredici gives themes to each of the characters - "sweet-natured, lazy Rip, his nagging wife, his dog. In that sense, it's a little like [Prokofiev's] Peter and the Wolf," he said, "but with a lot more words-over-music."

Those words (written by the composer's partner, Ray Warman) will be delivered with "lots of animation," Del Tredici said. "It should be quite a production. This is a piece for kids, as they say, of all ages."

The concert is at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. tomorrow, Kennedy Center, Virginia and New Hampshire avenues N.W., Washington. 202-467-4600.


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