Bluebeard and a sacrifice

Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle is one of the seminal works of the 20th Century. At first sight it's a simple telling of how Judith married Duke Bluebeard, and on arrival at his castle gets him to open locked doors leading to a torture chamber, an armoury, a treasure vault, a garden, a rich landscape, a gloomy sea - and a room with three previous wives, still alive. There is much emphasis on blood - on the weapons, on the flowers; and the tension and dread in the music indicates much deeper meanings. Bluebeard is secretive; Judith very demanding about opening doors. Is she the villainess? Or is he? Should she allow him privacy about his past? Should he reveal everything to her? It becomes an exploration of the very fabric of marriage, and offers no answers.

The new English-language production by the English National Opera, which I saw yesterday evening at the London Coliseum, takes a different tack. The 'castle' is behind and ordinary door under a street-lamp; its interior emerges as a cellar. The armoury consists of toys, the treasure vault as a couple of tatty costumes and a few jewels; the 'domain' consists of nine children of increasing ages, first seen on bunks and plainly frightened of Bluebeard. The starting point for the concept would seem to be recent news stories of women held in captivity for years in ordinary houses - in particular the Fritzl case.

It's an interesting interpretation, though occasionally at odds with the text; Bluebeard behaves more like a child at times, capering as he shows off the things he was initially reluctant to reveal (which got a laugh from the audience - intentional or not, this did nothing to aid the tension building). At the end his previous wives, their abdomens stained with blood, lie on the floor while he prepares to violate Judith with a sword.

The demanding parts were well sung by Clive Bayley and Michaela Martens; there are points in the production which could do with attention but it's a valid way to find a new interpretation.

As the opera runs only an hour a companion piece was necessary; usually it's another one-act opera but in this presentation the second half was a ballet; Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring performed by the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre. The original intention was to present a primitive rite in pre-history in which a sacrificial maiden finally dances herself to death. This production is in (relatively) modern dress, with something of an Irish tinge to it, suggesting perhaps a modern pagan cult.

Though it had some effective moments, much of it is clumsy, verging on risible. When the male dancers dropped their trousers and lay face down on the floor, their hips heaving rapidly, the audience laughed and I found myself irreverently speculating about knot-holes. I suppose a valid try at a new interpretation, but 4/10, could do better.

Posted: Thu - November 26, 2009 at 09:48 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM