Bluebeard's Castle

by Béla Bartók

Friday, April 19, 2013, 7:30 pm
Sunday, April 21, 2013, 2:00 pm

Hal France will present a pre-opera talk 45 minutes before each performance.


The captivating story of Duke Bluebeard, his new wife, Judith, and a castle containing seven mysterious doors. The secrets that lie behind them are revealed one by one through rich, haunting music. Hal France returns to Opera Omaha to conduct this complex work featuring brilliant orchestral writing. Legendary opera singer, Samuel Ramey, performs the title role.

Thriller! -by Conductor, Hal France

What Lies Beneath was a popular psychological thriller in 2000 starring Harrison Ford and Michele Pfeiffer. What Lies Behind could be the title for our 1911 operatic psychological thriller, Bluebeard’s Castle by composer, Béla Bartók and playwright, Béla Balázs. The young Hungarian’s work bears the trademarks of the genre made famous by Hitchcock, Scorsese, Welles, and many other filmmakers. Bartók went on to become one of the great composers of the 20th century and Balázs a distinguished writer in Film. In 1911 they were both relative Unknowns.

Basing their story on the 17th century French fable about a violent nobleman, B & B lean towards the psychological and away from the violent. Balázs provides a plot driven by internal desires. His symbolist libretto with two characters, 7 locked doors, many unanswered questions and mystery leaves much for our imaginations. In this way the libretto was an ideal vehicle for image driven music and sound painting.

In his score Bartók creates those compelling images that make Bluebeard’s dark castle seem strangely alive. He provides us music that springs impulsively out of the characters while they experience their first marital conversation. The bride, Judith, is zealous to know more about her new husband while he desperately tries to minimize the damage of his secret life. In a much less ominous way, I think many people might relate this to their own experiences.

In this opera like in many of the thrillers that captivate us today, what we sense far outweighs what we see. The great film composer Bernard Hermann capitalized on this same paradigm in scores like Psycho and Citizen Kane. It is feasible to suppose that Hermann may have learned from the ‘Playbook’ of opera composers like Debussy, Prokofiev and Bartók.

A fresh production concept employed by Director Andrew Eggert and Designer Julia Noulin-Mérat for Opera Omaha brings the scenic, dramatic and musical elements all together into one integrated environment on stage. I’m excited that our essential orchestra, the Omaha Symphony, will be at the center of everything in Bluebeard’s ‘living room’ with Sam Ramey and Kara Shay Thomson.

Among some favorite musical moments in the piece are:

- Piercing shivers and metallic chords for Door One

- Trumpets and brass choirs so suggestive for Door Two

- Soft trumpet chord and alluring violin solo for the bling of Door Three

- French horns magically greeting us at Door Four

- Massive gargantuan sonic chords presenting Door Five

- Eerie instrumental flutters for Door Six

Each new door opening presents a new scene and new color created by a brilliant Sound Painter. I would add two more audible images that become clues to the mystery,

- Small specks of blood on just about everything; often two oboes clashing

- Sighing, weeping and bleeding castle by fluid and air like orchestral effects

The music takes us subtly through the story’s conflict. Traveling from Judith’s earnest wish to bring light and openness to the castle all the way to her compulsive “Psycho-like” need to know everything. Combine that with Bluebeard’s resolve to keep secrets from being revealed and Bartók’s fine mastery of sound and this work becomes something worthy of our favorite thrillers!

Our success will lie in our ability to support two accomplished actors who with powerful singing voices must project this drama and it’s lines of Hungarian. We are so lucky to have Samuel Ramey in a role he has sung all over the world with Kara Shay Thomson as Judith. We are thrilled to bring it all to you at the Orpheum!

Bluebeard's Castle, A Theatrical Vision of Modernity -by Director, Andrew Eggert

Béla Bartók and the librettist Béla Balázs drew upon an ancient tale as the subject for their opera Bluebeard's Castle, yet their transformation of the story deeply reflects a progressive artistic perspective. The opera infuses the relationship between Duke Bluebeard and his new bride Judith with complex modern psychology. Hidden secrets of Bluebeard's past are unlocked with each of the seven doors of his castle, allowing glimpses into the subconscious world of the protagonists. There is a great economy in the storytelling of the opera, where every word and gesture takes on an immense expressive power. Bartók and Balázs understood the power of the audience's imagination, where everything that is left unsaid and cloaked in silence further ignites the inner world of dreams and illusions.

Our production grew out of the symbol of the locked door that is so essential to the story, and we have multiplied it to create an entire theatrical space. Due to the large scale and prominence of the orchestra—too large to fit in the orchestra pit—we have placed them on the stage, surrounded by the multiplicity of the doorways of the castle that double as an acoustical shell to blend and project the sound world of the opera into the auditorium. This construction of the castle is also an architectural labyrinth, where the surreal scale and complexity of doorways and passageways capture the feeling that Judith experiences as she is brought into the dark inner world of the castle for the first time. This maze has been constructed from discarded piles of salvaged doors that we have recycled and repurposed in the creation of this new type of space. As Judith explores each one of the seven doors in the opera, she asks for permission from Bluebeard to enter the hidden corners of the maze that contain the secrets of his past.

At the opening of each of the seven doorways, the score indicates that color and light are allowed to stream into the dark labyrinth of the castle. This symbolic play of light furthers the opera's modern theatrical vision, for it employs the cutting edge theatrical technology of electric lighting that was still relatively new in the year 1911, when the opera was composed. We have stayed true to the creators' vision in the opera by using a palette of moving image and light that are allowed to enter the castle with the discovery of each of the seven symbolic doors. The play of shadow and color that Judith witnesses captures her sensations in discovering what lies beneath the surface of her new home.

Duke Bluebeard is a character who is larger than life. The castle that Judith explores and its many hidden secrets are the portrait of an entire human soul. We have set the action in the early years of the 20th Century, in the time when the opera was composed, since that was itself a time of transition from an old order to a new modern world order. The fact that Bluebeard is a Duke references the impending end of the aristocracy that had ruled over Europe for centuries. The early years of the 20th Century were also the time when the field of modern psychology, in the theories of Freud and Jung, were casting new light on the world of dreams.

Yet no other aspect of the opera captures the modernity of its vision more than the totality of its theatrical expression, bringing together theater, music, acting, movement, and design into a complete whole that speaks powerfully and directly to our contemporary world. The opportunity to give new stage life to this modern masterpiece is an honor and privilege.

From Israeli Opera

The opera begins in total darkness. The setting, which gradually becomes visible after the entrance of Bluebeard and Judith, is an immense hall in the castle interior with several huge doors set into its walls. Judith is infatuated with Bluebeard, happy to leave her family and finances for him. She deflects his repetitious question, "are you afraid," and even when she begins to take in her surroundings--the icy air, the walls running with moisture--she brushes anxiety aside and declares impulsively that she will bring warmth, brightness and love to the castle. When Bluebeard replies that brightness can never penetrate the castle's gloom she responds submissively that she will follow where he leads. But as soon as she becomes aware of the seven barred doors, she demands that they be opened--that she herself be allowed to open them. Bluebeard reminds Judith of the rumors she has heard about him, and when she hammers on the first door a deep sighing is heard. Still refusing to admit to fear, she insists that her love give her the right to unlock the doors. As if hypnotized by her devotion, Bluebeard agrees.

The first door opens into Bluebeard's torture chamber but the gradual emergence of the rising sun counters Judith's apprehension convincing her that opening the other doors will drive the horror away. Behind the second door she discovers Bluebeard's armory and again, despite the blood stains on the weapons, she affects no anxiety, demanding the remaining keys with increasing urgency and proclaiming that her love requires her to share all Bluebeard's knowledge and possessions. The third door opens on the gold-shaded brightness of Bluebeard's treasury, and Judith exults in the beauty of the riches on display as he promises that everything will be hers. Inevitably, however, the brightness dims as blood stains the glittering jewels. Now it is Bluebeard who urges Judith on, and she opens the fourth door onto a still brighter scene, a garden in full bloom. All too soon the flowers are spattered with blood and with still greater agitation Bluebeard commands Judith to unlock the fifth door. In full dazzling sunlight a grand vista of Bluebeard's far reaching domains can be seen. Judith is stunned, and can only mutter submissively as Bluebeard exults in his power. Then a blood stained cloud starts to blot out the sun and despite Bluebeard's almost dance like joy at Judith's still unshaken love, he cannot counter her self-destructive urge to open the remaining doors.

Behind the sixth door is a lake of tears, and a great lament grows in the orchestra which Judith and Bluebeard echo. He embraces her with great tenderness, appearing to believe that her vision of herself as embodying light and hope can after all come true. But her questioning continues and he allows her to discover the real truth. Behind the seventh door she finds his three previous wives. As Bluebeard exultantly declares they embody morning, afternoon and evening. His fourth wife, Judith herself, represents midnight--deep and absolute darkness. After he has sent her tenderly to join the others, and the doors have closed, Bluebeard is left alone. The blackness that Judith has failed to dispel descends with inexorable finality.


Andrew Eggert, Stage Director

With an extensive background in dramaturgy and a growing resume as a Stage Director, Andrew Eggert is a director to watch. In the 2012-13 season, he directs the US premiere of Clemency by James MacMillan for Boston Lyric Opera and Bluebeard's Castle for Opera Omaha. He has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Chicago Opera Theater where he directed Mosè in Egitto and La Tragédie de Carmen after serving eight seasons as an assistant director. He is a regular collaborator of Stage Director Diane Paulus having served as Associate Director on a number of projects including the world première of the opera Death and the Powers. He has been a regular guest director at the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Princeton University, and the Yale Baroque Opera Project, and has worked with the young artist programs of Glimmerglass Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and Wolf Trap Opera. His new production of Mourning Becomes Electra was selected as a winner of Opera America’s Director-Designer Showcase. As a dramaturg he worked on Telemann’s Orpheus and Mosè in Egitto for New York City Opera. Mr Eggert is a graduate of Yale University and is currently pursuing a PhD in historical musicology at Columbia University.

Nils Haaland, The Butler

Nils Haaland is from Dutchess County, New York. He became a member of Actors Equity at the age of ten when he performed the Role of “Douglas Spaulding” in the play “Dandelion Wine” base on the novel by Ray Bradbury. Nils received his BFA from the Acting Conservatory at State University of New York at Purchase and moved to Omaha to co-found the Blue Barn Theater where he has directed and performed in an abundance of plays. He has also performed in plays with the Omaha Community Playhouse, the National Institute for the Lost, The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis and the ELAN theatre in Italy. Nils has directed voices for the Cartoon “Strawberry Shortcake” and has voiced many characters in the CBS aired Cartoons “Liberty’s Kids”, “Dino-Squad” and “Horse-Land”.  Nils received his MFA from UNL and currently works for Heartland Scenic Studios and Why Arts? Nils is thrilled to be performing again with Opera Omaha!

Hal France, Conductor

2013 was a season of homecomings to familiar places and old friends. In February, Hal conducted Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath with Stage Director Michael Ehrman at Northwestern University where he received his Bachelor in Music . In April, he joined Samuel Ramey and Kara Shay Thomson for Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle at Opera Omaha and in July, he returned to the Central City Opera at the Denver Performing Arts Center for 7 performances of Jerome Kern’s American classic, Showboat. Hal France currently serves as Special Project Director for Why Arts in his home, Omaha, Nebraska.

During a thirty-year professional career as an opera conductor, Hal France has led organizations and performed with opera companies and symphony orchestras around the United States. While conducting throughout the United States and abroad his activities include speaking and advocating for arts education. He has completed tenures as Executive Director of KANEKO (2008–2012), Artistic Director of Opera Omaha (1995–2005), and Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic (1999-2006).

Hal France has guest conducted the Royal Philharmonic, the National Symphony, the New Jersey Symphony, the Richmond Symphony and the Jacksonville Symphony. In 1992, he made his European opera debut with the Royal Opera of Stockholm with a production of Maria Stuarda.

Mr. France has collaborated with many of this country’s opera companies. In 1981, he made his professional debut at Washington’s Kennedy Center. He served the Houston Grand Opera first as Associate Conductor and later as Resident Conductor over a four-year span. He has conducted performances for the New York City Opera, Seattle Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of St.Louis, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Chautauqua Opera, Minnesota Opera, Cleveland Opera, Opera Carolina, Wolf Trap Opera, Opera Festival of New Jersey, Tulsa Opera, Portland Opera, Kentucky Opera, and Orlando Opera.

Hal France has been involved in numerous community collaborations that include:

BlueBarn Music Festival which presents exceptional talent in the Omaha area in a melting pot of musical styles, visual arts, young talent and fine cuisine,
Habitat for Humanity Omaha’s Multi-Faith Music Festival, celebrating Habitat’s diverse multi-faith family,
National Hunger Awareness Day Convocation, an annual event with leaders from Omaha’s Faith and Social Service Communities and the Omaha Food Bank,
Why Arts, a provider of arts training and entertainment for audiences including seniors, at risk youth and special needs populations,
Omaha Performing Arts 1200 Series Young Artist Nights, showcasing emerging musical talent in a full spectrum of styles,
Kountze Memorial Lutheran Food Pantry, serving Omaha’s growing population in need of additional assistance.

Hal France served as the first Executive Director of KANEKO a non-profit organization founded by the artist Jun Kaneko and his wife Ree in Omaha, Nebraska. During a four-year tenure he was integrally involved in every aspect of the organization’s creativity based programming and infrastructure. He promoted and helped design an extensive number of community partnerships, the Great Minds Lecture series, performances, exhibitions, workshops and educational outreach programs that brought people into a forum of ideas and collaboration.

Mr. France served as Music Director of the Mobile Opera and Lake George Opera Festival and as Music Director of Opera Omaha before assuming the position of Artistic Director. He has been on the music staffs of the Glyndebourne Festival, Aspen Festival and the Netherlands Opera. He has degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and a fellowship from the Juilliard Opera Center. Recently he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an Admiralty in the Nebraska Navy from the Governor of the state.

Natasha Grimm, Wife #1

A founding member of Ballet Nebraska, Natasha Grimm has performed leading roles including Sugar Plum Fairy in Erika Overturff’s The Nutcracker, Titania in Oskar Antunez’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mina in Winthrop Corey's Dracula, and the title role in Overturff's Cleopatra. Natasha began her ballet training at Omaha Theater Ballet School of Dance. She also received a scholarship to Kansas City Ballet, toured with Manhattan Dance, and performed in productions with Omaha Symphony and Opera Omaha. Natasha began her professional career at Omaha Theater Ballet where she danced first as an apprentice, and later as a company member. Natasha returns for her third season with Ballet Nebraska.

Samuel Ramey, Duke Bluebeard

For over three decades, Samuel Ramey has reigned as one of the music world’s foremost interpreters of bass and bass-baritone operatic and concert repertoire. With astounding versatility he commands an impressive breadth of repertoire encompassing virtually every musical style from the fioratura of Argante in Handel’s Rinaldo, which was the vehicle of his acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut in 1984, to the dramatic proclamations of the title role in Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, which he sang in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera televised by PBS. Mr. Ramey’s interpretations embrace the bel canto of Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti; the lyric and dramatic roles of Mozart and Verdi; and the heroic roles of the Russian and French repertoire.

The combination of Samuel Ramey’s commanding vocalism, exceptional musicianship, elegant stage presence, and uncommon theatrical abilities has enabled him to portray a wide variety of characters from the sharp-witted protagonist of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro to the somber, tortured King Philip II of Verdi’s Don Carlos; from the terrorizing Hun of Verdi’s Attila to the terrorized Tsar of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov; from the capricious libertine of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to the troubled preacher Olin Blitch in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah; from the sober and profound Field Marshal Kutuzov in Prokofiev’s War and Peace to the comedic title role in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi; from the benevolent Giorgio in I Puritani and Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor to the sinister incarnations of the devil in Gounod’s Faust, Boito’s Mefistofele, and Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust.

Past Productions

Recent engagements include Don Basilio (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Rambaldo (La Rondine), Timur (Turandot), and Pope Leo at the Met; Claudius (Hamlet) with Washington National Opera; Scarpia (Tosca) at Deutsche Oper Berlin; Méphistophélès in Nice; and the Grand Inquisitore (Don Carlos) with Houston Grand Opera.


Ramey’s broad discography has earned him three Grammy Awards, the Grand Prix du Disque, and recognition from Opera News and other major publications.

Claire Goodwillie, Wife #2

Claire Goodwillie is a professional dancer with Ballet Nebraska. She began her ballet training at Omaha Theater Ballet School of Dance and spent summers training with the renowned Pacific Northwest Ballet and Ballet Austin. She has also trained in Banff, Canada. Claire appeared in numerous Omaha Theater Ballet productions as both a student and apprentice, including The Sleeping Beauty, The Firebird and Coppélia. Her favorite roles include young Clara in The Orpheum Nutcracker, Evil Rat Queen in Erika Overturff's The Nutcracker, Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a vampire bride in Dracula. She has also performed with Opera Omaha and Omaha Symphony.

Kara Shay Thomson, Judith*

Recognized for the natural beauty of her voice and her sense of dramatic insight, American soprano Kara Shay Thomson is proving herself a versatile and essential artist on the operatic and concert stages. As the Longboat Observer acclaimed of her Tosca, “‘Vissi d’arte’ began as a plaintive, quiet act of desperation and grew to an ardent, fervent plea that was both luminous and luxurious in sound, while maintaining the nuanced vocalism of a true diva. In fact, there wasn’t a moment in the evening when Thomson came even close to over-singing or pushing. Her enormous voice resonated throughout the house yet she never abused her abilities and, by passionate restraint, was able to build a character who was, in every sense, a Great Woman.”

In 2011-12 Kara Shay Thomson returned to Sarasota Opera in the title role of Vanessa, debuted with Opera New Jersey in the title role of Tosca, joined the roster of Santa Fe Opera for its production of Tosca, sung as soloist with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra in excerpts from Edward Joseph Collins’ “Daughter of the South,” and as The Marschallin in excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier with Quad City Symphony.

Ms. Thomson resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, and received her Graduate Diploma in Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music.

Past Productions

Her engagements the 2010-11 season included the role of The Woman in Schoenberg’s Erwartung in a return to New York City Opera, Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana with Kentucky Opera, the title role in Tosca with Opera on the James, and an appearance as soloist in Dvoƙák’s Te Deum with the Cincinnati May Festival. She also appeared in recital with both the Cincinnati May Festival and Bethune-Cookman University, and in summer of 2011 she sang as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells” at Ravinia Festival under James Conlon. Her 2012-13 season engagements currently include singing the title role in Tosca in a return to Kentucky Opera, and in her debut with Portland Opera; Sieglinde in a staged presentation of Act I of Die Walküre with Dayton Opera; and Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle with Opera Omaha.

Recent engagements include Santuzza with Sarasota Opera; the title role in Tosca with Opera Delaware; a return to New York City Opera for Hugo Weisgall’s critically acclaimed Esther; the role of Zemphira in Aleko with the Cincinnati May Festival; Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with Opera North; Tosca with Sarasota Opera, Central City Opera, and Opera North; Marietta in Die tote Stadt with Washington, DC’s Summer Opera Theatre Company; the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro with Toledo Opera, Utah Festival Opera, and Pensacola Opera; the title role in Madama Butterfly with Colorado’s Emerald City Opera; and Musetta in La bohème with Glimmerglass Opera. Her successful debut as Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia with Chicago Opera Theater was followed by her return as Miss Jessel in The Turn of the Screw and as Fortuna in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea.

Other successes include Die tote Stadt with New York City Opera; Adina in L’elisir d’amore with Dicapo Opera Theatre; Mimi in La bohème with Emerald City Opera; Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte with Opera Domani; the title role in Iris with Teatro Grattacielo; Micaëla in a fully-staged production of Carmen with the Amherst Symphony; the title role in Regina with Bronx Opera; Violetta in a fully-staged production of La traviata with the Sioux City Symphony; Arminda in Mozart’s La finta giardiniera at Amherst College; the Daughter in a touring production of Strawberry Fields with Glimmerglass Opera; First Lady in The Magic Flute with Opera Festival of New Jersey; Marietta in the world stage-premiere of Chadwick’s The Padrone; Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus with Boston’s Commonwealth Opera; and a staged interpretation of Schubert’s Die Winterreise with the Jacques Thibaud Trio.

Concert engagements have included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the National Chorale at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall; Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the Muncie Symphony; Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Green Bay Symphony; Mozart’s Requiem with Albany Pro Musica; both Brahms’ Requiem and Carmina Burana with the Lynchburg Symphony; Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder with the Amherst Symphony; a Wagner Concert with the Wagner Society of Washington, DC; an Opera Gala with the Green Bay Symphony; Violetta in La traviata (concert) at Wisconsin’s Fox Cities Performing Arts Center; and her Carnegie Hall debut in Bach’s Magnificat with the Manhattan Philharmonic.

Bret Samson, Wife #3

Bret Samson began her dance training at Lake Shore Dance in Wisconsin. She continued training with Melissa Anderson and Rafael Delgado in Milwaukee, where she later became a founding member of their performance group. Bret continued her training at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Before joining Ballet Nebraska, she performed with Milwaukee Ballet II, Madison Ballet and Omaha Theater Ballet. Bret has enjoyed performing in works by a variety of choreographers, including Harrison McEldowney, Oskar Antunez, Winthrop Corey, Kennet Oberly, and Jean-Paul Commélin. She was recently featured as a soloist in Mikhail Fokine's classic The Dying Swan during Ballet Nebraska's Momentum. A founding member of Ballet Nebraska, this is Bret's third season with the company.




Friday, April 19, 2013, 7:30 pm
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Sunday, April 21, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Orpheum Theater | Slosburg Hall
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Asst. Director: Allison Lingren*
Choreographer: Erika Overturff
Principal Accompanist & Hungarian Coach: Krisztina Kover*
Scenic & Costume Design: Julia Noulin-Merat*
Lighting Design: Allen Hahn*
Video & Projection Design: S. Katy Tucker*
Makeup & Hair Design: Elsen & Associates Inc.
Stage Manager: Sarah Hall*

* Opera Omaha Debut


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