It’s not giving anything away to say that in this production of Béla Bartók’s thrilling, disquieting Bluebeard’s Castlethe monster does not prevail. Judith may have failed in her attempt to bring lasting light to her husband’s castle but she will not be subsumed into his nightmare world where the very walls weep and mute women are discovered behind a locked door.
Carmen Topciu and Daniel Sumegi in Bluebeard’s Castle. Photograph © Prudence Upton
And how is this not a spoiler? Because Andy Morton and Priscilla Jackman’s production for Opera Australia makes two important decisions that are evident immediately. The first is to include the spoken prologue, sometimes omitted, and the second is to have those words spoken by a woman, when they are usually delivered by a male voice.
The prologue is heard in voiceover, spoken in the opera’s language of Hungarian. We assume we are hearing Judith, Bluebeard’s newest wife. Already she is taking control of this “once upon a time” story, a fable whose meaning is malleable and highly personal. It is an internal drama, felt and understood individually. Librettist...