Opera Scotland

Barbe-bleue Bluebeard

Music

Jacques Offenbach (born Cologne, 20 June 1819; died Paris, 5 October 1880) 

Text

Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.

Source

Medieval legend.

 

Premières

First performance: Paris (Théâtre des Variétés), 5 February 1866.

First UK performance: London (Olympic Theatre), 2 June 1866.

First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 11 April 1870.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

In the 1960s, when Sadler’s Wells added this work to its repertory and took it on tour, it marketed it under the title Bluebeard and his Six Wives – an interesting idea given that none of them actually appear – he has already murdered five, and number six has not yet been selected. Perhaps they worried that audience members expecting an hour of serious Bartók might be disturbed by unexpected exposure to this delightful froth. The work has dropped from popularity since then, which is a pity, since musically it seems as consistently enjoyable as the other major works. It also introduces an unusual element of genuine suspense, since there is little doubt about Bluebeard’s insanity, and always the possibility that he might succeed in murdering somebody.

 

Main Characters

Duke Bluebeard (tenor)

Boulotte, a swineherd (mezzo-soprano)

Popolani, an alchemist (baritone)

Princess Helena, daughter of King Bobèche (soprano)

Prince Lysander (tenor)

King Bobèche (tenor)

Queen Clementine (mezzo-soprano)

Count Oscar, their chamberlain (bass)

 

Plot Summary

Duke Bluebeard has decided to select his sixth wife from the local village by lottery. The “lucky winner” is Boulotte, a peasant girl who spends more time with her pigs than with humans, and is lacking the finesse of manners and dress to which the Duke is accustomed. He is delighted at this prospect, and she is taken off to the castle for an immediate wedding ceremony to be performed. No sooner has he married wife number six, than Bluebeard takes a fancy to a pretty young woman who turns out to be Princess Fleurette. If he is to marry her, he must rid himself of Boulotte, and he orders Popolani to do the necessary as before. However Popolani has never had the heart to kill the predecessors, and Boulotte is led down to his cellar and introduced to them. They decide to bring matters to a head, and escaping from Popolani, put in an appearance to prevent the next marriage from taking place. Bluebeard is left with his marriage to Boulotte and a supposedly happy ending.

The Cast

Alvarez
 
Blanche
 the fourth wife
Boulotte
 a swineherd
Count Oscar
 Court Chamberlain
Duke Bluebeard
 
Heloise
 the first wife
Isolda
 the third wife
King Bobèche
 
Leonora
 the fifth wife
Popolani
 alchemist employed by Bluebeard
Prince Lysander
 disguised as Florian
Princess Helena
 disguised as Fleurette
Queen Clementine
 
Rosalind
 the second wife

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