Major Operas | Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók | Modern Era

Composed: 1911 (re. 1912; 1918)
Premiered: 1918, Budapest
Libretto by Béla Balázs, after a fairy-tale by Charles Perrault

Bluebeard and Judith appear in the doorway of his castle. She has left her family and declares she will never leave him. He closes the iron door. She offers to warm the stones and let in the light. There are no windows, only seven locked doors. She demands he opens them. The first opens with a cavernous sigh. It is his torture chamber: the walls are bleeding. He tells her to beware of the castle, and gives her the second key. It is his armoury, the weapons stained with blood. She may have three more keys, on condition that she asks no questions. The third and fourth doors reveal the treasury and his garden, the jewels smeared with blood and the flowers withering. The fifth opens onto the glory of his kingdom. All this is now hers. Judith cannot rest while two doors remain closed. She holds out her hand for the sixth key. The castle grows darker as a still white lake of tears is revealed. He kisses her. She asks if his previous love was more beautiful, was she different? Still he refuses to open the last door. Now she knows the tears are those of his murdered wives. She must open the seventh door. His three former wives appear, each wearing a crown, and he kneels before them. He found them at morning, noon and evening. He found Judith, the most beautiful of all, at night. While she begs him to stop, he dresses her in a starry cloak and a crown. She follows them back and the door closes behind them. Now the night will last for ever.

Personalities | Béla Bartók | Modern Era | Opera


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