Göteborgs Symfoniker
Available until 6 December 2022

Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Recording with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, May 7, 2022, Gothenburg Concert Hall.

Marin Alsop was the first woman to become Chief Conductor of a major American orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony. She puts a lot of thought behind every program she conducts. A good program should have a message, maybe even a sense moral, but at the same time offer variety for the ear.

Béla Bartók’s one-act opera Bluebeard’s Castle is also narrative in its character, but even more the work gives voice to man’s inner psychological landscape. The premise is stripped down: after breaking away from a previously secure existence, Judith seeks out the object of her love, a man named Bluebeard. His home, a darkened castle, towers behind them. Should she flee or accompany him in and see what is hidden in the castle’s seven sealing rooms? Diving into this spiritual labyrinth in all its musical complexity is an experience that is difficult to shake off.

In the opera’s opening scene, Judith and Bluebeard stand in front of the dark building. From the orchestra, we hear a gently threatening string pad. The woodwinds take over in surging intervals and a simultaneously melancholy and frightening melody takes shape. Bluebeard begins. Why has she come to him?

Only dangers await in the castle; he advises his beloved against going inside. A dynamically portrayed battle of hearts emerges. The fifteen-minute scene concludes with Bluebeard giving in. The castle opens…

Bluebeard’s Castle has a direct and evocative nature that borders on hypnotic. Diving into this spiritual labyrinth in all its musical complexity is an experience that is difficult to shake off. The libretto by Béla Balázs is typical of the era. It is said that the theme impacted Bartók, who identified with Bluebeard, as an emotionally guarded person. But even more, in the libretto he saw an opportunity to use music to portray the darkest corners of the soul, as – like so many others during this time – he considered music to be the artform tied most closely to the human subconscious. Through pure energy, music was considered an artform that could place listeners into spiritual states of all kinds. And upon hearing what he achieves in this gem of a short opera, it is difficult to disagree.

Enjoy!

 

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Programme

Bartok Bluebeard’s Castle BÉLA BARTÓK (1881–1945) BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE, OPERA IN ONE ACT Although narrative in nature, with distinct imagery attached to each scene, Béla Bartók’s one-act opera, Bluebeard’s Castle (1911) – unlike MacMillan, whose work from 80 years earlier mainly explores an external course of events – gives voice to the inner psychological landscape of people instead. The premise is pared down: after breaking away from her previously safe existence, Judith seeks out the object of her affection, a man called Bluebeard. His home, a dark castle, towers behind them. Will she run away or follow him inside and discover what is hidden within the castle’s seven closed-off rooms? In the opera’s opening scene, Judith and Bluebeard stand in front of the dark building. From the orchestra, we hear a gently threatening string pad. The woodwinds take over in surging intervals and a simultaneously melancholy and frightening melody takes shape. Bluebeard begins. Why has she come to him? Only dangers await in the castle; he advises his beloved against going inside. A dynamically portrayed battle of hearts emerges. The fifteen-minute scene concludes with Bluebeard giving in. The castle opens. The first room is a torture chamber. Fear washes over Judith and the music breaks out into threatening chaos as Bluebeard tries yet again to persuade Judith to leave the castle – to leave him. But Judith persists. The second room is a dark weapons storehouse, portrayed musically through march-like percussion and deconstructed trumpet fanfare. Once again, the couple’s verbal duel is portrayed through strange, dissonant eruptions, as well as pensive melancholia in beautiful, shimmering arches. Judith will not allow herself to be scared away by her lover’s inner darkness. And this proves to bear fruit, as the third room is a treasury. At the same time, Judith does not fail to notice spatters of blood here and there. Her anxiety rises again. The fourth room is a beautiful garden – also spattered with blood. The opera reaches its culmination in the fifth room, where Bluebeard’s kingdom materialises, vast and filled with blood. Bluebeard insists that Judith lets it rest, that she love him without asking any more questions. But no – she wants to know everything, all set to the sounds of thundering wind fanfare and a stormy orchestral surge that leaves the listener breathless. The last two rooms remain, and the music leaves behind the short, explosive format used to illustrate the first five rooms. The tempo slows, the form lengthens. Judith enters a room filled with a lake of tears. There is no going back now, which she understands. The listener is tossed between slow, sheer sorrow and maximalist dramatic peaks. The seventh and final room is a middle world between the living and the dead, where Bluebeard’s previous wives await. Once inside, Judith has no choice but to join this sorrowful group. Her fate is sealed. Bluebeard’s Castle has a direct and evocative nature that borders on hypnotic. Diving into this spiritual labyrinth in all its musical complexity is an experience that is difficult to shake off. The libretto by Béla Balázs is typical of the era. It is said that the theme impacted Bartók, who identified with Bluebeard, as an emotionally guarded person. But even more, in the libretto he saw an opportunity to use music to portray the darkest corners of the soul, as – like so many others during this time – he considered music to be the artform tied most closely to the human subconscious. Through pure energy, music was considered an artform that could place listeners into spiritual states of all kinds. And upon hearing what he achieves in this gem of a short opera, it is difficult to disagree.

Participants

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Marin Alsop conductor

Ausrine Stundyte soprano

Gerald Finley basbaryton

Georg Zlabinger director

Karin Tufvesson-Hjörne narrator prologue