brian cutean

ArtsWatch Weekly: Bluebeards, villain kings, black art’s soul

The feminine mystique of "Bluebeard's Castle," Shakespeare's "Richard III," the trouble with Tiger Lily, black art and meaning in America

The naked truth about Bluebeard’s Castle, Béla Bartók’s astounding hour-long opera that the Oregon Symphony performed Saturday through Monday nights, is … well, let Elizabeth Schwartz explain it, in her typically erudite program notes:

“Bartók worked on the opera over the summer of 1911, when he and his wife Márta spent their holiday at a Swiss nudist colony near Zurich. [Librettist Béla] Balázs, who visited the colony that summer, noted in his diary how the industrious Bartók would spend hours in the solarium, wearing nothing but sunglasses, as he worked on the score.”

Viktoia Vizin as Judith, with Chihuly glass, in "Bluebeard's Castle." Photo: Jacob Wade/Oregon Symphony

Viktoria Vizin as Judith, with Chihuly glass, in “Bluebeard’s Castle.” Photo: Jacob Wade/Oregon Symphony

John and Yoko have nothing on that. And in a way, Bartók’s curious compositional strategy made sense: emotional nakedness is essential to the Bluebeard tale as Balázs retold it. The opera has just two singers: the aging, mysteriously private Bluebeard himself, and his new (fourth) bride, Judith, who insists on bringing some sunshine into the castle, and her new marriage, by demanding that Bluebeard open the seven locked doors that hide his secrets. Maybe not the best idea. At a talk Friday night with symphony director Carlos Kalmar, Christopher Mattaliano of Portland Opera, and the Portland Art Museum’s Bran Ferriso (the show’s set included marvelous glass works by Dale Chihuly), stage director Mary Birnbaum talked about Castle as Judith’s quest for knowledge and openness, which Bluebeard is loath to grant, and I’m inclined to agree that it’s really Judith’s story. Contrary to popular opinion, her soul sisters Eve and Pandora seem the heroes of their stories, too, the ones who provide the essential spark of humanness: How can one be fully human without curiosity and the compulsion to learn? Remember: the last bee to escape Pandora’s bonnet was hope.


Brian Cutean on disk, on air, onstage: Evergreen artistry

On his career-capping new album and in concert in Portland, the veteran Eugene singer combines social conscience with sharply observed songwriting


Since running away as a Midwestern youth to ride the rails and join the traveling minstrels, Eugene-based Brian Cutean has been mentored by some giants of various genres of modern Americana and world music and theater while he has himself cast distinctive influence across styles of song, recording, improv/story theater, spoken-word performance, deeply enmeshed in activist and arborist communities of cultivators and folk artists.

Brian Cutean and band performed at Portland's Old Church concert hall. Photo: Daniel Flessas.

Brian Cutean and band performed at Portland’s Old Church concert hall. Photo: Daniel Flessas.

A warm late August show in Portland at the acoustically overhauled historic Old Church gave the city folk and Ore-Wa regional song-chasers a chance to celebrate Cutean’s newly released album, slow-cooked with some of the spicy musicians who lent it its flavor on-hand as summer touring commitments wind down.


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