2011 sees one hundred years since Bartok first began writing Bluebeard’s Castle, a dark and brooding masterpiece; begun in 1911 when Bartok was thirty, it was first performed in 1918. It’s his only opera, a one-act work in which only two characters appear on-stage: the secretive Duke and the inquisitive Judith, whose desire to discover what lies behind each of the seven locked doors in Bluebeard’s castle will eventually be her doom.
It’s a masterpiece: the visual element is so brilliantly rendered in the orchestral score that it almost makes a staged realisation unnecessary. The glittering yet bloody armoury, the sweeping views of Bluiebeard’s seemingly limitless kingdom, the dazzling treasury where the priceless artefacts are tinged with blood, the lake of tears – the music creates these scenes so well, you almost don’t need to see a stage production’s version: better to leave it to the imagination.
The arguments rage over whether Judith deserves her fate – her curiosity uncovers an ever-deepening nightmare as each door is opened, until the final door is opened to reveal all Bluebeard’s previous wives, whom she is to join – and the psychological or pyschosexual analysis of Bluebeard himself. Does Judith’s nosiness make her fate inevitable ? She knows Bluebeard is a private person, yet she seduces and wiles him into giving her the keys and letting her open each door: does she get what she deserves ?
You can see each act on YouTube: explore the dark and dangerous world of Bartok’s Bluebeard, and decide for yourself.