Bluebeard’s Castle – there but for the grace of a background check.
This opera is by Bartok, which means that even if it were about unicorns, butterflies and cupcakes, it would still be disturbing.
In Bluebeard’s Castle, Judith leaves her home and fiance and comes to live with Lord Bluebeard. Given Bluebeard’s reference to “your family’s probably putting up flyers with your picture on it” (I don’t speak Hungarian, so that might not be an exact translation), it was not an approved union.
But she’s crazy about him. So crazy, in fact, that she misses the 140 or so red flags, thereby missing her chance to escape while the escaping’s good.
And he does wave red flags, starting with asking her several times if she’s sure she doesn’t want to leave. Under his psychotic exterior, he wants to be good. He really does. Sort of.
Judith notes that it is very dark in the castle and, despite Bluebeard’s insistence that that’s how he rolls and if she wants a castle with roses she should hit Disney, she asks for the key to unlock the seven doors and shed some light on the subject. It’s just like any new couple – she wants to find out what he has hidden in the dark recesses of his soul/castle. He tells her she shouldn’t go there, she says “but I love you, how could this possibly go wrong?” and then we find out how wrong it can possibly go.
She opens the first door and finds a torture chamber.
If we are honest, we all have a torture chamber lurking somewhere. It’s just that his has hot coals and a rack. And it looks like it gets used quite a lot. She is understandably shaken by the sight but pulls herself together and says “It’s okay, I’m good. Next key.”
Note: in live performances it is not appreciated when you yell at Judith from the audience.
The next room is the armory, which would have been distressing if Judith were un-deluded enough to have hoped for a rescue party. “My, what pointy daggers you have, Bluebeard.”
Bluebeard is starting to enjoy this therapy session and offers Judith the next three keys, thinking five doors should keep her happy.
The third door is his treasury, which Bluebeard proudly announces now belongs to Judith, shiny crowns and all. Judith is delighted until she realizes there’s blood on the crown. So she does what any normal person does when she realizes she’s looking at something unpleasant – she looks somewhere else.
The fourth door opens to Bluebeard’s garden. Judith really should stop here, since it’s letting in the light and that was the whole point of this exercise. But the light is not dawning in Judith’s pretty little head, and although the blood on the flowers throws her for a loop, she presses on.
The fifth door opens to Bluebeard’s kingdom. It goes on and on. But again, the river is tinged with blood and Judith goes from “I love you, how could this possibly go wrong” to “I love you but is that lipstick on your collar and why don’t you love me and who’s that on the phone and I AM NOT THE FIRST WOMAN YOU’VE LOVED, AM I?”
Which is all fairly normal for a new relationship (if you discount the torture and the blood and the fact that the castle occasionally moans and that Bluebeard smiles at all the wrong times).
Bluebeard begs her to stop asking questions and kiss him. She does. And then she asks more questions. And then she kisses him. And then she loses it completely and demands the sixth key.
Behind the sixth door is a silvery pool. “What made this silvery pool?” Judith asks.
Weeping, says Bluebeard.
In this scene, his answer to everything is “weeping.” Why is the sky blue? What’s for lunch? Why did the chicken cross the road?
Weeping. Weeping. Weeping.
So Judith goes from losing it to really, really losing it, but not in the “I AM GOING TO DIE” way like she should, but in the “you are having an affair/are hung up on your mother/don’t think I’m pretty” way. Which is not helpful. She wants to face her competition and see what she’s up against, so she opens the seventh door and meets his previous wives. Sort of.
Bluebeard’s Castle is based on a fairy tale.The modern tendency with fairy tales is to clean them up, give them a happy ending and feed them to our children. Which teaches children nothing. This, on the other hand, teaches young women to be strong within themselves, listen to their inner voices, do a thorough reference check and always, always heed the person in the audience screaming “run, you moron.“