Director Daisy Evans draws the audience not only into the dark corridors of a mysterious castle in her revival of the Bela Bartok opera Bluebeard’s Castle. She pulls us into the very depths of memory and the human psyche in an innovative retelling of a time-old tale. The young bride whose hope turns to terror is replaced by an ageing woman in the grips of Alzheimer’s, struggling to negotiate memory and her lover’s past in a production which is full of contemporary energy and insight.
A production which is full of contemporary energy and insight
Attended to by a new, stripped-down arrangement, and a specially commissioned English translation of the original script, Evans and Theatre of Sound have done an excellent job across the board. At the heart of the opera are the characters of Judith and Bluebeard. Susan Bullock, playing a Judith grappling with her deteriorating memory, delivers a stellar performance that oscillates between hope and terror. The nuanced tapestry of emotions she weaves—of love, fear, and the dawning realisation of long-suppressed memories—resonates deeply. Matching Bullock's intensity, Lester Lynch’s portrayal of Bluebeard embodies both formidable power, tender vulnerability, and undeniable menace.
Visually, the staging is excellent. This version situates itself within an everyday, domestic scene – a living room made slightly unsettling with its array of lamps and unconventional angles, surrounded by the grim, dark walls walls of a castle keep. The seven symbolic doors of the original opera are replaced with a vintage travel trunk. It’s a repository of memories - garments, household items – items which are often unveiled with the accompaniment of one of the five silent actors involved. As each memory is released hope flares then darkens in an emotionally charged journey which consistently commands attention.
Accompanying the action is arranger and conductor Stephen Higgins who directs the Hebrides Ensemble to ensure the musical accompaniment underscores each beat of the narrative journey. Although once or twice the singing got lost in the music, perhaps someone dipped when they should have soared or vice versa, the accompaniment did a fine job in lending the necessary gravitas to moments of tension and elevating the tender moments with more refined subtlety.
Overall Bluebeard’s Castle makes for a powerful and thought-provoking performance. It adds a very interesting new thematic dimension to the opera, daring to explore what happens when the tapestry of human memory starts to unravel, and revealing the hope, anguish and dread which lies behind it.