DUBLIN THEATRE FESTIVAL: Bluebeard’s Castle – Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Composer: Béla Bartók

Director: Enda Walsh

Conductor: André de Ridder

Reviewer: Tricia O’Beirne

Béla Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle, with Libretto by Béla Balázs, was first performed in the early twentieth century and is playfully re-imagined here in director Enda Walsh’s staging, presented by the Irish National Opera with music by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The opera is a duet sung in the original Hungarian, with surtitles in English, by Joshua Bloom (bass) and Paula Murrihy (mezzo soprano).

Murrihy is Judith, a potential fourth wife for the infamously rapacious Bluebeard (Bloom). She leaves her former life and comes to Bluebeard’s castle willingly. As she sings of her love for “Sweet Bluebeard” she is equally obsessed with the secrets the castle conceals within its walls and the mysterious rooms to which Bluebeard holds the keys. In Walsh’s vision, Judith seduces Bluebeard’s castle rather than the man, she wants to kiss the walls and warm the ground with her body; she insists that Bluebeard must open each of the castle’s seven locked rooms so that she may fully possess the secrets and suffering within. But Judith’s persistence and assertiveness do not pay off in this dark tale and her terrible destiny is revealed as Bluebeard reverts to his monstrous self.

Murrihy and Bloom’s singing delights in this treatment of the Bluebeard legend. Their skillful and relaxed delivery is enchanting and the live orchestra dramatically accentuates the twists and reveals of the story. Costume design by Jamie Vartan is compelling: Judith embodies light itself in a shimmering gold dress, illuminating the dark recesses of the castle; Bluebeard’s former wives are anachronistic, dressed as if suspended in the sixteenth-century origins of the legend. Varten’s set is less successful however as the vast extent of wall at the back of the stage seems under-utilised. For instance, when married with certain lighting choices the potential for shadow play is tantalisingly good but we only get a taste of it. Walsh’s direction allows the voices of the two singers to take centre stage for most of the time but the performance is bookended by two signature choices. A young boy, face hidden by a curtain of hair, begins proceedings with a somewhat overlong attempt to repair a large speaker while the final curtain falls on a tableau of children in various poses, hopefully representing a resistance to Bluebeard’s world of darkness.

Runs until 14 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

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