Bluebeard’s Castle is cool as shit, man. It’s such a great story, and the music is unbe-fucking-lievable. Bartok wasn’t actually supposed to write it – Bela Balasz, the librettist, had a roommate who also composed named Zoltan Kodaly – but thank God he (being Bartok) did. It’s possibly the raddest thing he ever did, a score overrun with ideas and colors and intrigue. The story is pretty simple: boy meets girl, boy brings girl home, boy is rich and has sweet castle that could use a little light, boy sure has a lot of closed doors in here, boy has some secrets that he would prefer you not ask about, boy relents and shows you everything one door at a time, girl is rewarded with jewelry. Lots of jewelry.
There are some amazing moments throughout this score, but without question the best part is when Judith flings opens door number 5 (from about 29:17 in the video) with a pretty awesome scream and shows the vast expanse of Bluebeard’s entire kingdom sprawled out before them. Bartok calls for massive block chords, bloated with intensity each time behind Bluebeard’s impassioned calls to peep how sweet his land is. Judith is getting pretty freaked out at this point and pretty half-hearted in her amazement so Bluebeard just does what anyone would do and keeps talking about bad ass his place is. The minor second, which is described as a “blood” motif throughout (because it appears when Judith starts seeing blood all over Bluebeard’s shit), reappears in the trumpet and casts a bit of a pall over the majesty of it all. This all culminates in a delightfully creepy and spine-tingling minor third that the strings play over the major chord left over from the rest of the band the moment Judith discovers the blood-red shadow over everything. It’s chill-inducing stuff.
The best part about Bluebeard’s Castle is the fact that it doesn’t really matter if it’s staged. The music is so evocative that you understand everything about the story without needing a single visual cue, which is why concert performances are probably more common than full stagings (or at least AS common). The performance above features the Concertgebouworkest and Ivan Fischer along with Balint Szabo as Bluebeard and Ildikó Komlósi as Judith. It’s excellent, excellent work, particularly from the orchestra, who play like they were recently possessed by demons. Enjoy.