Ann Bogart Directs Boston Lyric Opera
Bela Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle with Four Songs by Alma Maria Schindler-Mahler
By: BLO - Feb 14, 2023
A brand-new production that blends Bela Bartók’s 1918 one-act opera Bluebeard’s Castle with 1915’s Four Songs (Vier Lieder) by his contemporary Alma Maria Schindler-Mahler – and immerses audiences in a multi-room installation including a pre-show musical salon – arrives at the Flynn Cruiseport Boston for four performances March 22-26. The experience is led by legendary stage director Anne Bogart, who wowed audiences in 2019 with BLO’s production of Poul Ruders’ The Handmaid’s Tale.
The production of Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs stars American bass-baritone Ryan McKinny as Bluebeard and Irish mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa-O’Connell as Judith.
Bluebeard’s Castle (Béla Balázs, librettist) tells a twisted folktale of the fictional Duke Bluebeard who brings his hastily wed wife Judith to visit his foreboding fortress of a home for the first time. In exploring the castle and her new relationship, Judith begins to realize she faces the same desperate fate that befell Bluebeard’s previous wives. Much has been made of whether Bartók, Baläzs and the source material intended the castle’s rooms of atrocities as literal or figurative. Either way, the opera explores the depths of an intense emotional and psychological relationship.
Four Songs is one of three song cycles Mahler wrote before her marriage to Gustav Mahler. The songs, “Licht in der Nacht,” “Waldseligkeit,” “Ansturm” and “Erntelied” ponder love both turbulent and passionate, and the healing beauty of nature. Mahler’s composing career was quashed in deference to her husband’s wishes; only 17 of her more than four dozen compositions survive.
“When I began thinking about how to approach Bluebeard,” Bogart says, “I realized Bartók’s music is extraordinary – dark and labyrinthine – some of the most dynamic, powerful music you will hear. But it clearly needed a companion piece – written by a woman. We are dealing with the stark differences between the male and female experiences inherent in Bartók’s work.”
Bogart says blending the two distinctly different works counterbalances Bartók’s “excitingly dynamic, powerful and very male” music with Mahler’s lighter, more humanistic songs. Bringing female-composed music into the production adds depth to the character of Judith, Bogart says, “giving her an agency not otherwise shown in the story.”
BLO Music Director David Angus, who conducts the performances, found a recently revised orchestration for Bartók’s opera created in 2020 by German conductor Eberhard Kloke; it makes its New England premiere with this production. Angus says this chamber orchestration retains the music’s power and allows for a more intimate experience into the psychological world that Bogart is creating. The settings for Mahler’s songs are re-orchestrated by contemporary arranger Julian Reynolds for a chamber orchestra; Angus describes them as “delicate and beautiful” and says “they deserve to have a much wider audience.”
The production itself takes the audience on a journey, starting at the street level from which huge escalators transport them up into the massive Cruiseport building. Once inside, audiences enter a curtained corridor leading to a cabaret/salon reminiscent of those Alma Mahler might have hosted as a leading New York City socialite. A pianist (Yukiko Oba) plays music by women composers including Amy Beach, Margaret Bonds, Lili Boulanger, Florence Price and Clara Schumann (a Spotify playlist is here). Audiences then move to a performance space where O’Connell as Judith opens the performance singing two of Mahler’s lieder.
“Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs illustrates a production and programming philosophy that has, for more than a dozen years, shaped the identity of Boston Lyric Opera,” says Stanford Calderwood General Director & CEO Bradley Vernatter. “These site-specific installations – Pagliacci in a North End ice rink, or Anne Bogart’s The Handmaid’s Tale at the Harvard basketball stadium – have yielded some of BLO’s most rewarding artistic triumphs,” Vernatter says. “I’m so happy this production allows us to work again with the brilliant Anne Bogart, who knows well how to create a beautiful production and a memorable experience for audiences.”
The artistic team for Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs includes set designer Sara Brown (most recently for BLO, designed Fellow Travelers, 2019), costume designer Trevor Bowen (Champion, 2022), lighting designer Brian H. Scott, Boston-based movement director Victoria L. Awkward (Romeo & Juliet, 2022) and intimacy director Angie Jepson. For more information on the artistic team, click here.
Tickets to Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs start at $25 and are available through BLO Audience Services online at blo.org, by phone at 617.542.6772, or via email at email@example.com.