A kékszakállú herceg vára, (commonly referred to by its English name, Duke Bluebeard's Castle) is a one-act opera by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. The libretto was written by Béla Balázs, a poet and friend of the composer. It lasts only a little over an hour and there are only two characters: Bluebeard (Kékszakállú), and his new wife Judith (Judit); the two have just eloped and Judith is coming home to Bluebeard's castle for the first time. Bluebeard's Castle was written in 1911 (with modifications made in 1912 and 1917) and first performed on May 24th 1918 in Budapest. The libretto was originally written in Hungarian, although it is also sometimes performed in German translation.
Bluebeard's Wives: Silent.
(Both singing roles are often sung either vocal types)
The basic plot is loosely based on the folk tale of Bluebeard, but is given a heavily psychological reworking (some would say psychoanalytic or psychosexual, cf. Bruno Bettelheim and The Uses of Enchantment). The setting is a huge, dark hall in a castle, with seven locked doors. Judith insists that all the doors be opened, to allow light to enter into the forbidding interior, insisting further that her demands are based in her love for Bluebeard. Bluebeard refuses, saying that they are private places not to be explored by others, and asking Judith to love him but ask no questions. Judith persists, and eventually prevails over his resistance; Bluebeard begins opening the doors, one at a time; after opening each door he pleads with Judith to demand no more.
The first door opens to reveal a torture chamber, stained with blood. Repelled, but then intrigued, Judith pushes on. Behind the second door is a storehouse of weapons, and behind the third a storehouse of riches. Again, Judith is disturbed but cannot be persuaded to stop. Behind the fourth door is a secret garden of great beauty; behind the fifth, a window onto Bluebeard's vast kingdom. Although these later rooms are not as inherently repellent as the torture chamber, in each case it is revealed that blood has stained the riches, watered the garden, or otherwise defiled the contents.
Bluebeard again makes a major attempt to end the opening of the doors, but Judith refuses to be stopped after coming this far, and opens the penultimate sixth door. Significantly, this is the first room that has not been somehow stained with blood; a silent silvery lake is all that lies within, "a lake of tears," says Bluebeard, but it is unclear whose tears they are.
Finally, they come to the seventh door. Bluebeard's resistance is strong and he repeatedly asks Judith to love him and ask no questions. Judith cannot be appeased however, and eventually gives voice to her fears, that she already knows what is behind the seventh door: Bluebeard's murdered former wives. Under this accusation, Bluebeard at last opens the final door.
Behind the door are indeed Bluebeard's three former wives, but amazingly they seem to be still alive, although imprisoned. They emerge silently, and Bluebeard, overcome with emotion, prostrates himself before them and praises each in turn. Finally Bluebeard hands Judith a crown, names her as his fourth and final lady, and sorrowfully bids her farewell; she seems crushed by the weight of the crown, and her cloak; and she becomes one with the former wives behind the seventh door. It closes behind her, and the opera ends in darkness.
Traditionally, the set is a single dark hall surrounded by the seven doors around the perimeter. As each door is opened, a stream of symbolically colored light comes forth (except in the case of the sixth door, for which the hall is actually darkened). The symbolic colors of the seven doors are as follows:
These lighting instructions are notably ignored in the movie (not staged) version of the opera, for which more elaborate, literal sets were constructed.
The slow orchestral introduction to the work is often preceded or overlapped by a spoken prologue, (also by Balázs, but published as "Prologue of the Bard" independently of the play). This poses to the audience the questions "Where is the stage? Is it outside, or inside?" as well as offering a warning to pay careful attention to the events about to unfold. The prologue warns the audience that the morals of the tale can apply to the real world as well as to that of Bluebeard and Judith. The character of the bard (or "regős" in the Hungarian language) is traditional in Hungarian folk music, and the words of the prologue (notably it's opening lines "Haj, regő, rejtem") are associated with traditional Hungarian "regősénekek" (Regős songs), which Bartók had previously studied. The prologue is frequently omitted from performances; to some it seems heavy-handed and unnecessary, while to others it fits well with the reworked folktale atmosphere.
The stage directions call also for occasional ghostly sighs that seemingly emanate from the castle itself when some of the doors are opened. These have been implemented differently by different productions, sometimes clearly instrumentally, sometimes vocally and sometimes not easily identifiable.
The most salient characteristic of the music from Bluebeard's Castle is the importance of the minor second, an interval whose dissonance is used repeatedly in both slow and fast passages to evoke aching sadness/disquiet or danger/shock respectively. The minor second is referred to as the 'blood' motif, for it is used whenever Judith notices blood in the castle. Overall the music is not atonal, although it is often polytonal, with more than one key center operating simultaneously (e.g. the leadup to the climactic opening of the fifth door). However, there are some passages (for example, door 3) where the music is tonal and mostly consonant. Many critics have found an overall key plan, as you would find in a tonal piece of music. The opera starts in a mode of F#, modulating towards C in the middle of the piece (tonally, the greatest possible distance from F#), before returning to F# towards the end. The text and setting at these points has suggested to some that the F#-C dichotomy represents darkness/light.
The strong uses of dissonance and polytonality, as well as the Hungarian language, make the vocal parts challenging to those trained outside of Hungary; as a result the opera is performed somewhat less often than other works by the same composer.
Bartók was motivated to complete the opera in 1911 by the closing date of the Ferenc Erkel Prize competition, for which it was duly entered. A second competition, organised by the music publishers Rózsavölgyi and with a closing date in 1912, encouraged Bartók to make some modifications to the work in order to submit it Rózsavölgyi competition. Little is known about the Ferenc Erkel Prize other than that Bluebeard's Castle did not win. The Rózsavölgyi judges, after reviewing the composition, decided that the work, with only two characters and single location, was not dramatic enough to be considered in the category for which it was entered: theatrical music. It is thought that the panel of judges who were to look at the musical (rather than the theatrical) aspects of the competition entries never saw Bartók's entry.
Trauma, Gender, and the Unfolding of the Unconscious" with the collaboration of Juana Canabal Antokoletz (Oxford University Press) ISBN13: 9780195103830ISBN10: 0195103831