Karen Cargill, in the Guardian, reflects on the power of this opera, the story of a young bride locked in with a manipulative husband, especially in the present lockdown conditions. October 2020.
We all know Bluebeard. From Jane Eyre to Kubrick’s The Shining, his castle has become shorthand for a place where dark secrets lurk behind locked doors, and the man himself has become a synonym for evil. Today’s Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Bluebeard as “a man who marries and kills one wife after another”.
But what of his young bride, his final wife?
I first met Judit (or Judith), as she is known in Bartók’s opera, three years ago when I was performing in the Vanishing Point production of Bluebeard’s Castle for Scottish Opera.
Who is this woman, what is her goal, who does she see in the mirror?Bartók’s claustrophobically intense work adapted the folk story that first appeared in Charles Perrault’s 17th-century book of fairytales, although variants existed across Europe and beyond far earlier (English folklore has a rich, handsome and sinister Mr Fox and his brave wife Lady Mary, there’s a version of the story in Arabian Nights, and perhaps you can trace it back to Pandora and her box).
In Béla Balázs’s libretto, the young bride Judit leaves her family to marry the much gossiped about Bluebeard. There are stories about him – but does she believe them? On arriving at this castle, she enters a dark gloomy space where all the doors are tightly locked and the walls are damp. The story of what lies behind these doors unfolds as she asks him to give her the key to each.This is a role with which it is difficult to make peace in many ways: a vulnerable young woman who stays with her manipulative husband, a man who guards his dark past behind seven ominous doors. How do we perform this piece in 2020, the world of #MeToo very much in our consciousness?
Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, with Karen Cargill, Gerald Finley and Sir Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra premieres on the LSO’s YouTube channel on 1 November at 7pm and can then be watched on demand for free. It was recorded in September 2020 at LSO St Lukes