Bartok: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: NVC Arts
WORKS: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
PERFORMER: Robert Lloyd, Elizabeth Laurence, John Woodvine; LPO/Adam Fischer dir. Leslie Megahey (1988)
CATALOGUE NO: 51865-7052-2

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I’m amazed that there are so few DVDs of Bartók’s great opera available. As the Prologue, spoken here in English (the opera is sung in Hungarian) says, Bluebeard can be regarded equally as a work about ‘the inside’ or ‘the outside’, but it is primarily a psychological tale about the terrors of concealment and of finding out the truth about another person.

So I don’t think it matters if you ‘just listen’ to it, especially with so many powerful recordings on CD. What is important is that if you do see ‘the outside’, that is the actual castle and its contents, you are in no way distracted from contemplating ‘the inside’, the psychological drama that unfolds with such fearful intensity and inevitability.

Fortunately, this BBC film from 1988 does make wonderful watching, with Bluebeard’s castle a huge, frightening, rambling place where the walls bleed, and conceal his previous wives, now living statues, who at the end of the opera are joined by Judith as punishment for demanding to see all her husband’s secret rooms. 

The musical performance does justice to what we see on stage. Robert Lloyd’s Bluebeard is a powerful study of suffering, weariness at the thought of yet another too-curious wife, and understated menace; and the dark colours of his voice suit the part ideally.

Elizabeth Laurence looks a little mature, but she seems eager, impulsive, and not the nagging new wife Judith is sometimes portrayed as. I’d have thought she needed to wear something more substantial than an off-the-shoulder evening dress in that draughty damp castle, though. She sings with incisive tone.

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Adam Fischer conducts the slightly distant orchestra magnificently, and the whole experience is compelling – even if the picture is slightly hazy. Michael Tanner