Classical Music

The Oregon Symphony Mashes Up Hungarian Opera and Chihuly's Glass Art

Bluebeard's Castle kicks off the new SoundSights series, which mixes classical music with work by Northwest visual artists.

By Rebecca Jacobson September 20, 2016

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Dale Chihuly's glass sculptures represent locked doors in Béla Bartók's opera.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably seen Dale Chihuly’s sculptures. But it's doubtful you've seen the hulking glass creations flanking the stage of the Schnitz as classical musicians and singers unleash a moody, romantic Hungarian opera.

Yet that’s precisely what you’ll get this weekend as the Oregon Symphony rolls out Bluebeard’s Castle, Béla Bartók’s eerie short opera about an evil duke and his young bride. Glass sculptures by Chihuly—14 feet tall, twisty, and colorful—represent seven locked doors in the duke’s castle, each hiding a different horror.

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The show, running September 24–26, is the first installment in the Symphony’s new SoundSights series, which mashes up classical music and work by visual artists from the Northwest. In December comes Messiaen’s romantic composition Turangalîla alongside the projection mapping of Rose Bond, a Pacific Northwest College of Art professor known for her site-specific installations. (Symphony president Scott Showalter likens Bond to “a live video DJ, changing the walls of the Schnitz during the performance onstage.”) And in May, Portlander Michael Curry—the master puppeteer behind Broadway’s The Lion King, several Olympics ceremonies, and five Cirque du Soleil shows—will bring Stravinsky’s Persephone to life.

“You’ve got artisanal glass, videography, and puppets, so it’s three different forms of visual art combined with symphonic music,” Showalter says. “At the same time, it’s not just bells and whistles. What I want it to do is augment your experience while not detracting from the sound. The visuals are meant to stimulate the senses, and in the case of Bluebeard, the glass really opens your mind to the allegory and the story itself.”

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Chihuly's glass sculptures were originally commissioned a decade ago by the Seattle Symphony for a separate production of Bluebeard’s Castle, but the two other SoundSights shows are brand-new creations. For Showalter, it was important that this series tap into local talent.

“We want to create art at the highest level,” he says, “and if we can find internationally prominent artists right here in our backyard, that’s the sweet spot.”

To kick things off, Showalter will moderate a panel on Friday, September 23 featuring Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar, the Portland Art Museum’s Brian Ferriso, and Portland Opera’s Christopher Mattaliano. RSVP by noon on Wednesday, September 21 to [email protected]

Bluebeard's Castle runs Sept 24–26 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

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