A Hand of Bridge / Bluebeard’s Castle
Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice honours the avantgarde short-opera genre with a double feature of two classics: A Hand of Bridge by Samuel Barber and Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók. Both works take merely one act and develop their stories in a single setting. To make up for the static scenery, however, they shine with musical invention and exciting characters that make the performance a dynamic and thrilling affair.
Samuel Barber composed A Hand of Bridge with profound awareness of the jazz and blues idioms that defined the 1950s. The result is a mini-opera of about nine minutes, through which a common theme flows to tie four ariettas together. As two couples sit down for their traditional game of bridge, each person reveals their heart’s desires and their life’s frustrations. Sally longs for a fancy hat while decrying her role as a dummy; Bill worries his affair might have come to light; Geraldine realises how little love there is in her life; and David longs for freedom and riches in order to make his dreams come true. A Hand of Bridge is a condensed masterpiece after a libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti, premiered at his own Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto on 17 June 1959.
Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók is, by comparison, a more conventional one-act opera that still bears the traits of the Hungarian composer’s distinct expressionist style. It was originally conceived in 1911 based on a libretto by Béla Balázs, which draws on French writer Charles Perrault’s famous dark fairy tale La Barbe bleue. After a couple of revisions, the official premiere took place on 24 May 1918 at the Royal Hungarian Opera House in Budapest. Bluebeard and Judith arrive at his castle as newlyweds, and the young wife immediately notices how dark it is inside. Against her husband’s pleas to accept the situation and to simply love him without further questions, Judith opens door after door to shed light on her new family home and to reveal the dark secrets Bluebeard keeps in the darkness. Thrills guaranteed!