Bluebeard's Castle

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.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

In this radical retelling of one of opera’s great masterpieces, husband and wife face the reality of living with dementia while celebrating their long love and shared memories.

Groundbreaking new opera company Theatre of Sound presents a newly commissioned libretto of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, sung in English by two stellar casts performing in rotation. They're accompanied by musicians from the Hebrides Ensemble playing a new chamber orchestration conducted by Stephen Higgins. This poignant production was awarded the Opera and Music Theatre Award at the 2023 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards and Outstanding Production, Outstanding Director and Outstanding Performance at the 2023 DORA awards.

In a departure from the original folktale, director Daisy Evans reimagines the relationship between Bluebeard and Judith. Instead of ominous doors, a locked trunk sits in the living room. Judith begs for it to be opened, over and over again, and as it is, memories spill out – a wedding, a child, a family. This castle is not a dank, airless dungeon, but rather a happy home where Judith and Bluebeard have shared their most precious memories.

But now Judith is living with dementia. She slips away from Bluebeard, leaving him alone with the shreds of their life.

This Bluebeard is a love story.

A touch tour for blind or partially sighted audience members is available before the 8pm performance on 26 August. Find out more.

Supported by Sheila Colvin

Béla Bartók

Theatre of Sound

Daisy Evans Director and Librettist
Stephen Higgins
Conductor and Orchestration

Hebrides Ensemble

Susan Bullock*, Charlotte Hellekant^ Judith
Lester Lynch*, Michael Mayes^
Bluebeard

*23, 25 & 27 Aug
^24 & 26 Aug

Original production supported by Opera Ventures and Stone Nest.

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