As soon as upon a time… The place did this occur? Outdoors, or inside? The music sounds, the flames are lit… Observe rigorously.’
These are the phrases that the Bard, the narrator, declaims at first of one of many strangest items of Twentieth-century music, an opera that continues to be an enigmatic and terrifying riddle greater than a century after the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók composed it in 1911: Bluebeard’s Fort.
What can we observe there? There are simply two singing components on this story: the aristocratic sadist Bluebeard, who brings his newest younger spouse Judith to his fort, with its seven locked doorways.
Her curiosity flings all of them open all through the drama, revealing his torture chamber and his armoury, the partitions of the fort oozing with the chromatic torment and blood-stained semitones of Bartók’s rating; there’s the thrilling blaze of C main dominion behind the fifth door, and the residing corpses of Bluebeard’s earlier wives behind the seventh and final door, the place Judith is doomed to hitch them on the finish of the opera.
Bluebeard’s Fort is the staging of a widely known fairytale, which had already been became operas by Offenbach and Dukas earlier than Bartók, and it’s been remade by writers and film-makers like Angela Carter and Catherine Breillat in our time. But it surely’s additionally a chunk that places pure psychology on the opera stage: locked doorways, darkish chambers of creativeness and sexuality that Bluebeard would quite maintain hidden however that Judith can’t resist making an attempt to open along with her love.
Why was the 30-year-old Bartók so drawn to this story? And why did he dedicate the piece to his spouse, Márta Ziegler, who was 16 after they married? What a marriage reward, in its sound, its symbolism and its story: an older man with a teenage bride, a life by which she walks around the fort of his creativeness and creativity to search out solely darkness. Blue-beard, Bartók-beard, who is aware of?
But it surely’s not as an opportunity to psychologise its composer that Bluebeard’s Fort stays so darkly fascinating for us as we speak. The piece is de facto an invite to look at ourselves by means of the horrifying machinations of its story.
There’s one other, unseen door that the piece opens: to our personal responses to this drama. We’d select to bury the Bluebeard expertise deep within the recesses of our creativeness, but when we’re trustworthy, we additionally need to go down there and open these locked vaults: what secrets and techniques will we discover in ourselves? Our sympathy for Judith, or our sympathy for Bluebeard? Do you let the sunshine into the darkest locations of your consciousness, or maintain them hidden?
Bartók’s bravery in Bluebeard goes there in his personal inventive and psychic world, and daring to open these doorways: our query is whether or not we’re courageous sufficient to hitch him.
Illustration © Maria Corte Maidagan