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Tuesday | Apr 09, 2013

The Many Lives of Duke Bluebeard–by Assistant Director and Guest Blogger Allison Lingren

The Many Lives of Duke Bluebeard

From the Prologue of Bluebeard’s Castle:

“The curtain of my eyelids is raised,

Take notice until it drops again,                                                                                           

Ladies and Gentlemen”:

My name is Allison Lingren, and I am the Assistant Director of Bluebeard’s Castle. It is my happy task to take notes on all the finesse and detail work that Andrew, Sam, Kara Shay, Nils, Hal, and Krisztina do in staging rehearsals so that as the work progresses, we can refer back to the ‘Aha!’ moments and make sure they remain a part of the production. In turn, I get to share these moments with you and throw the door wide open (pun intended) on the rehearsal process!

Last night, the entire team came together for the first time. Stage Director Andrew Eggert and Production Designer Julia Noulin-Merat walked Sam and Kara Shay through the maze of floor tape that will become a real life labyrinth of platforms and stairs when we move into the performance space on Sunday. In his Director’s Notes, Andrew mentions that the production concept began with the symbolism of the locked door, which then was multiplied to create an entire theatrical space. The interior of Bluebeard’s castle is a complex structure of doors and passageways that physicalize Judith’s inner turmoil as she attempts to navigate and uncover the hidden corners of Bluebeard’s psyche. One has to wonder if the end result would be different if she would just stop and ask for directions!

We began at the beginning, as would please the King of Hearts. The Speaker (or, as he is sometimes called, the Bard), played by Nils Haaland, addresses the audience directly in the spoken Prologue. In this production, the Speaker takes the form of Duke Bluebeard’s devoted butler, a man who has been with him for decades, or, we begin to suspect, even centuries. He has seen this story play out between Bluebeard and his wives before.

The original “Bluebeard” story, the children’s tale about a monstrous prince who cruelly murders his wives for disobeying him, is centuries old and has taken on many shapes. It originated as one of the Mother Goose tales written by Charles Perrault alongside classics like “Cinderella”, “Puss in Boots”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “Little Red Riding Hood”. After its publication in 1697, “Bluebeard” quickly established itself as a standard in the realm of children’s literature in France, Germany, England, and elsewhere in Europe.

However, by end of the eighteenth century, the story began to be adopted and recast many times over by the adult world of literature and opera. Writers explored the psychological motives for Bluebeard’s murderous tendencies and saw him as a lonely man haunted by repeated disappointments in the never-ending search for love.

To Bartok and the opera’s librettist, Balazs, the story was a powerful metaphor for the difficulties that men feel in their relationships with women. And so the Bluebeard character in Bartok’s opera is not the predatory creature from the Perrault tale who shouts so fiercely at his doomed wife that his bellows “make the whole house tremble.” Instead, the moans and the trembling now come from the castle itself, an external manifestation of Bluebeard’s loneliness.

But I digress – back to the Speaker! Andrew sees this character as the conduit of the story, and he and Nils are continuing to experiment with the perfect blend of ingredients needed to create this slightly paranormal figure (part devoted butler of an aristocrat, part human embodiment of Theatre, and a splash of the circus barker with a slightly sinister smirk).

As work on the Prologue went on, our Hungarian language coach and  accompanist, Krisztina Kover, pointed out that the score’s English translation actually leaves out the first two lines of the Hungarian text and begins with the 3rd line, which equates to the traditional “Once upon a time…” in English.  She translated the first two lines on the spot, and it was decided that “A riddle, ladies and gentlemen” will be the opening line of Opera Omaha’s production of Bluebeard’s Castle. Krisztina even played us a recording of a prominent Hungarian actor performing the Prologue in the original language, which got Nils thinking about the Prologue as an incantation. Cool discoveries like that are what make the rehearsal process fun!

Well, I shouldn’t give everything away in my first post! Stay tuned to the blog, where I’ll continue to expose more of the secrets of Bluebeard’s Castle, at least until Andrew decides I’ve said too much and shuts me up in a room with the three previous Assistant Directors…

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