Even the most ardent opera fan may be tempted to ask, Ariane et Barbe-who? The New York City Opera is currently putting on this extremely rare 1907 opera by Paul Dukas (whose only well-known hit is the Sorcerer's Apprentice - think Mickey Mouse and broomsticks). I had never come across the opera before, and considering the quality of much of the music, the fact that this work has been so neglected is something of a mystery.
True, the plot is hardly Rigoletto. Ariane, the sixth wife of Bluebeard, arrives at his castle, frees his five former wives from their dungeons and, when these decide to stay on despite their liberation, takes her leave. That's it.
But the music, heavy with the influence of both Debussy and Wagner, is often marvellous - the cries of the imprisoned wives off-stage in the first act being the high spot for me.
It was a shame that the quality of the singing was not always as high as the music deserved. Renate Behle in the title role certainly had the strength and the stamina for the part, but her voice lacked both beauty and tenderness. Ursula Ferri, as the nurse, was either having a very bad night or she simply was not up to the task. Her big number in the first act, as she opens the first six doors of the castle, was frankly embarrassing. The other, smaller parts were all competently executed.
The production of this elusive opera was suitably symbolic, with no attempt made at realism - quite right too, given the deliberate lack of realism in the libretto.
Ariane may well never become totally mainstream, but it certainly could give many a more established opera a run for its money. Full marks to the New York City Opera for taking the commercial risk of putting it on.