The 8th Door is a new work composed specifically as a companion piece to introduce Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle. It was conceived by Matthew Lenton, of theatre company Vanishing Point, who directed the Bartók, and Scottish Opera's Composer in Residence, Lliam Paterson. Lasting something like forty minutes, it provided an intriguing introduction to the main event, focusing on the relationship of a second dysfunctional couple.
The most important factor was the musical element. For a young composer, who had never previously been let loose on a full-sized orchestra, the quality of the material and its employment of the wide range of instrumentation at his disposal was most enjoyable. He used a sextet of singers who performed from the pit - the lyrics, sourced from a group of Hungarian poets, were either in Hungarian or English translation. Their voices were amplified and words generally audible. This idea was reminiscent of the Sinfonia by Luciano Berio, which was itself influenced by an existing piece of similar vintage to the Bartók. Indeed Berio actually went further, including direct quotations from Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony.
There was quite enough interest to maintain concentration through the span, and the ending was dovetailed neatly to lead into the opera that followed. While it may be that there was enough content there to allow the audience a break, one question might be whether the twenty minute interval worked, or was maybe detrimental. Perhaps the opera could simply have been linked immediately into the end of Paterson's piece that had been so carefully paced to introduce it.
On balance, having an interval was probably the right decision, allowing the new work to make its effect. Siân Edwards conducted both works in a masterly fashion, maintaining tension superbly across both substantial spans. The staging of The 8th Door is perhaps the one thing that raises doubts. It was extremely simple. Two silent actors sat either side of the stage with their backs to the audience. Each was facing a video camera so a large screen could be filled by each face in turn. It added little, without getting in the way, and left little in the memory after the success of the 'main event' that followed it.
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