Opera Scotland

Bluebeard and Judith

Duke Bluebeard's Castle in Scotland

Posted 3 Apr 2017

Duke Bluebeard's Castle was first performed in Scotland on 30 January 1957 at the Lyric Theatre, Glasgow in a version of the score edited by Erik Chisholm for a chamber orchestra of fifteen players. This important Glaswegian musician had taken up an appointment as Dean, Professor and Principal at the College of Music, University of Cape Town in April 1946. He brought a group of his South African musicians to the UK, where they opened in London. Chisholm conducted and directed, with soloists Gregorio Fiasconaro and Desirée Talbot as Bluebeard and Judith. This intimate presentation was approved by the composer's son Peter, as an experiment, but was felt to lose more than it gained, and does not seem to have been repeated. It was given in a double-bill with Chisholm's own opera, The Inland Woman.

The full-sized score was heard at the 1963 Edinburgh Festival, in the first visit of the Hungarian State Opera and Ballet. They performed a triple-bill, following it with both Bartók's ballets, The Miraculous Mandarin and The Wooden Prince. Since the whole evening was therefore regarded as ballet, it was performed not at the King's Theatre, but at the Empire – the only occasion when a Festival opera was seen there before the reconstruction of the building thirty years later. János Ferencsik conducted a staging by Kálmán Nádasdy, with András Faragó and Olga Szönyi as Bluebeard and Judith.

In 1973 this company returned with a production by András Mikó, again conducted by Ferencsik, this time at the King's Theatre. Only one ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin was seen this time. There was an alternating cast of singers, with György Melis and Katalin Kasza (soon to be a Covent Garden Brünnhilde) joining the previous pair.

On the final visit of Sadler's Wells Opera touring to Edinburgh in 1972, a new production by Glen Byam Shaw, in designs by Ralph Koltai, was conducted by Charles Mackerras. The singers were Don Garrard and Ava June. Scottish Opera's first staging of the work, in 1990, was, like the SWO version, sung in English and paired with Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. Monte Jaffé and Kathryn Harries were conducted by Vakhtang Matchavariani in a production directed and designed by Stefanos Lazaridis.

Scottish Opera's second production, in 2004, was conducted by Richard Armstrong and directed by André Engel. The two Hungarian soloists were Michele Kálmándi and Andrea Szántó. The pairing this time was Schoenberg's Erwartung.

The most recent Festival staging was by the Frankfurt Opera in 2013, when Robert Hayward and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner sang in Barrie Kosky's production, conducted by Constantinos Carydis. The first part of the evening could hardly have been a more complete contrast, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.

Concert performances at the Edinburgh Festival have undoubtedly been an effective method to increase audience familiarity and display artists who would not be available for full stagings. In 1984 the Royal Philharmonic appeared, with Walter Weller conducting Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Julia Varady. The BBC Symphony Orchestra with László Polgár and Michelle DeYoung were conducted by Pierre Boulez in 2001. Ilan Volkov and his BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra appeared in 2004, with John Relyea and Petra Lang. 

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