Review: Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung (Canadian Opera Company)

0694 – (l-r) Mark Johnson as the Psychiatrist, Krisztina Szabó as the Woman and Noam Markus as the Lover in the Canadian Opera Company production of Erwartung, 2015. Conductor Johannes Debus, director Robert Lepage, revival director François Racine, set and costume designer Michael Levine, and lighting designer Robert Thomson.  Photo: Michael Cooper Michael Cooper Photographic Office- 416-466-4474 Mobile- 416-938-7558 66 Coleridge Ave. Toronto, ON M4C 4H5

The Canadian Opera Company delights Toronto audiences with a unique double feature

A gold mosaic framed the Canadian Opera Company’s 2015 double feature production of psychological thrillers Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartόk and Erwartung by Arnold Schoenberg. This production is a remount of director Robert Lepage’s operatic debut for the COC in 2001.

In Bluebeard’s Castle, the listener is drawn into Bluebeard’s dark, disturbed world as his foreboding castle floats on set to the opening strains of Bartόk’s intense and larger than life score. Bartόk’s music in this opera is oddly reminiscent of contemporary movie scores. Perhaps this is unsurprising since well-known movie composers like Danny Elfman cite Bartόk as an influence.

Lepage makes use of a number of captivating stage effects and lighting techniques that enhance the film-like, surreal quality of the production. While the story is a dark fairy tale, Lepage demonstrates an astute understanding of the very real psychological themes underlying the fantastical narrative. We have all at some point been afraid to reveal our dark side to those closest to us and conversely have been hell bent on exposing a loved one’s dark side at our own peril.

While the work has a few silent actors, the dialogue occurs between two sung roles: Bluebeard (John Relyea) and his new bride Judith (Ekaterina Gubanova). Relyea and Gubanova did a superb job of maintaining the dramatic and sexual tension between the conflicted lovers; clearly interpreting the very relatable emotional crisis faced by the couple. Likewise, the orchestra’s interpretation was highly nuanced. The score is characterized by stark contrasts — at times imposing, grandiose and terrifying, at times vulnerable and apprehensive. The orchestra took the audience along for this intense and thought-provoking emotional roller coaster ride, culminating in grim finality.

I am no great fan of Schoenberg and as such did not feel as engaged by Erwartung. Nevertheless, Lepage continued to demonstrate himself to be a consummate interpreter of psychological drama and inner conflict. In this work, three silent roles support a single, sung role, “The Woman” (Kristina Szabό).  Lepage masterfully interprets the Woman’s disjointed narrative as the confused ramblings of a woman in a mental institution. Again, a number of cunning stage effects were used to draw the viewer into the Woman’s confused, distorted world. Szabό infused her clear, sweet instrument with a vulnerability and despair that tugged at the listener’s heartstrings and brought to life the pathos of Schoenberg’s music, even for one who is not a fan.

The themes of these two contrasting works fit together exceptionally well, which is often a challenge for double features. My companion and I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling psychodrama which made for a relatively brief, but intense evening at the COC. A fantastic option for those interested in more substantial fare and creative staging.


  • Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung is playing until May 23 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
  • Show times are 7:30 PM on May 12, 14 & 23 with additional matinees on May 10 at 2 PM and May 16 at 4:30 PM.
  • Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653)

Photo of Kristina Szabό and Mark Johnston in Erwartung by Michael Cooper