Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle - Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 24 Aug 2013 (4 stars)

This article is from 2013

Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle - Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 24 Aug 2013

Oper Frankfurt present a contrasting programme of warm, doomed love and psychological nightmare

In combining Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Oper Frankfurt have created a deeply powerful theatrical and musical experience for their audiences. Both productions are provocative but in quite different ways. While Barrie Kosky’s Dido captures the love between the doomed lovers with intimate warmth, Judith and Duke Bluebeard are stripped bare in the dark menace of their disturbing psychological nightmare.

The Festival Theatre’s stage was fully exposed to its bare walls, as if Bluebeard was saying to Judith ‘this is my castle, you see it all and take it on at your own risk’. It was also, however, a contradiction, as what Judith – a trusting young bride who has forsaken her family and fiancé to be with Bluebeard – discovers in the opera are her new husband’s seven locked doors, which she wants to open. In Kosky’s version, unusually, there are no actual doors on stage, so no tangible keys to unlock them either, which puts the emphasis even more on the piece being about what’s going on in Bluebeard’s messed-up head. It’s creepy, chilling and painful stuff, with super-strong performances from Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner playing Judith.

While Kosky uses the large space for Bluebeard, the action of Dido and Aeneas takes place, no doubt for practical as well as artistic reasons, on a long thin strip at the front of the stage and also rather charmingly in the orchestra pit as the singers move around. There are some touches which are puzzling, such as the naked non-singing extras, but the counter-tenor witches were a delectable highlight and the whole piece is visually stunning. Musically tight under conductor Constantinos Carydis, casting was again first class with Paula Murrihy a superbly convincing Dido.