All of Bluebeard's former wives have disappeared - and yet another young woman follows him into his castle: For the Bayerische Staatsoper, British director Katie Mitchell now stages Bartók's only opera Bluebeard's Castle. Combined with Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, Mitchell blends both works into a completely new opera thriller. British director Grant Gee’s film produced in the run-up to the production, and for which Oksana Lyniv conducts Concerto for Orchestra, presents the protagonist Anna Barlow (Nina Stemme). She works as an undercover investigator on a case involving three women who have disappeared. Nina Stemme sings the role of Judith, while John Lundgren takes on the role of Duke Bluebeard.
The work and the composer
More than three decades separate Bartók’s two works, which together form the new production – Judith. The one-act opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, was produced in 1911 in Hungary; Concerto for Orchestra in 1943 during the composer`s exile in the US. Nevertheless elements of his first and only opera reappear in Bartók’s late orchestral piece. Conductor Oksana Lyniv, previously musical assistant to General Music Director Kirill Petrenko, sees a strong musical connection between the two pieces, which makes Concerto for Orchestra a, “dramatically perfect attunement for the opera that follows”.
With Béla Balázs’s libretto, Bluebeard’s Castle manifests itself as the psychograph of a secretive, cold-blooded man, whose women have all disappeared. Behind each of the seven doors of his castle is hidden a new mental abyss; each door reveals an even darker shadow of cruelty. And Judith follows him from door to door. She aims to change the Duke for the better with her love – but fails. Although already composed in 1911, the opera only celebrated its world premiere at the Royal Opera House Budapest in 1918.
British director Katie Mitchell returns to the Bayerische Staatsoper following George Benjamin’s Written on Skin (2013) to develop a radical reinterpretation of the Bluebeard material. Mitchell opted to veer away from the otherwise usual combination of Bluebeard’s Castle with a second one-act piece, and instead decided to combine the opera with one of Béla Bartók’s orchestral pieces. In a cinematic prologue we see Nina Stemme as an undercover investigator on a case involving three women who have disappeared. She suspects entrepreneur Michael Hayworth (John Lundgren). To attract his interest she assumes an identity similar to that of the missing women. She offers her services online as an escort. She chooses Judith as her alias. The trap snaps shut and soon Judith is confronted by the man who calls himself Bluebeard. And so begins an opera thriller for which Mitchell has completely revised the Judith character: “No woman would voluntarily put herself in such an immediately life-threatening situation. With us the woman will therefore pretend to serve this fantasy, in order to find the other women.”