Ask Audrey Ask Audrey
Archived

Bluebeard's Castle

"Stories like these should be left in the dark ages"

Elissa Blake asks, did Opera Australia consider what women in the audience might feel watching this story of coercion and violence?

Text size
Text size
Company: Opera Australia
Add to favourites

Bluebeard’s Castle: Who’s Reading the Room?

Date: 2 Mar 2021

I have a lot of questions for Opera Australia.

The first being, whose idea was it to program Bluebeard’s Castle, a sinister and frankly, horrifying opera about a man who serially tortures and kills his wives, in a time when women are boiling with rage and disgust over the seemingly endless murders of women at the hands of their partners, and the repeated ignoring and condoning of sexual violence from men, who remain silent, including in the highest offices in the land?

Written by Bela Bartok, in 1911, the 60-minute opera is the Hungarian composer’s only opera. It’s more frequently staged as in concert form.

For those who don’t know the story, Judith (Carmen Topciu) has run away from her wedding and family to be with Bluebeard, a man who lives in a gloomy castle with no windows or light, and plenty of dark secrets and rumours. She is now isolated. Inside the castle, there are seven locked doors. She begs Bluebeard (Daniel Sumegi) to open them because “she loves him”.

She opens the first door to find a torture chamber. The second door reveals a room full of blood-soaked weapons. The third room is full of jewels stained with blood. The fourth door reveals a garden, soaked in blood.

The fifth door reveals his wonderful kingdom (a moment director Andy Morton described as Bluebeard’s “willy-waving moment” in a Sydney Morning Herald feature piece).

Bluebeard asks Judith to stop there, to not ask him to open the last two doors. But of course, she does. The sixth room is a lake of tears. Judith starts to suspect Bluebeard has murdered his three previous wives.

But the seventh room has a horrifying surprise.

His three wives are still alive. We see them trapped in a cupboard, tied up in awkward positions, with black hoods over their heads.

So far, the audience has only imagined the bleeding walls and the instruments of torture.

Now we see three young women in short negligees, bound and dehumanised. Why did the director choose to show this when up until this point, everything else has been imagined? Are we meant to be titillated?

Bluebeard further dehumanises the three women by explaining that he has one of each kind: a morning, noon and night woman. Judith will be added to his collection, his midnight woman.

Can Opera Australia please read the room?

How many more operas about women being slaughtered or dying for love, can we stomach? We’ve talked about violence against women in opera for years. This particular production, at this time, feels beyond the pale.

In 2020, 55 women in Australia were violently killed by men, mostly by their partners. In this context, how can we sit through art depicting violence against women with no comment? This opera has nothing to offer women except more pain.

I understand Opera Australia may have considered the story in this gruesome fairytale “topical” or “current”, maybe even urgent. The reviews are now flowing in – all very positive – we can hear what the critics thought of the staging, its musical moments and the performances of its stars.

But does anyone stop to consider how women in the audience might feel watching this story? We’ve been saturated with news of rape and sexual assaults on school-aged girls and women, and mysterious deaths, washed-up body parts, suicide and resignations in disgust. All this, while men largely remain silent.

As an experienced theatregoer, I don’t know if I want to see even more violence by men against women on stage. I’ve had enough.

We have to move beyond the cautionary tales that tell women to submit, not ask questions, and stay in their place. Stories like these should be left in the dark ages.

Content
Dead Skin: Heard and Seen at Seventeen
Add to favourites
ArchivedKings Cross Theatre, Kings Cross, Sydney 2 - 17 Apr 2021

Dead Skin: Heard and Seen at Seventeen

For too long, young girls have lacked agency in literature, argues playwright Leneikka Denne. It's time for teenagers to be heard.

You’re Not Special: Resistance is Useful
Add to favourites
ArchivedKings Cross Theatre, Kings Cross, Sydney 5 - 20 Mar 2021

You’re Not Special: Resistance is Useful

Sam O'Sullivan's new play examines what effect our culture of effortless consumerism has on aspects of our lives that reward hard work.

Young Frankenstein: Some Kind of Monster
Add to favourites
ArchivedHayes Theatre Company, Potts Point, Sydney 18 Feb - 20 Mar 2021

Young Frankenstein: Some Kind of Monster

You pay a price for years of pretending to be someone you’re not, writes Matthew Backer, star of Young Frankenstein.

See More

More to see

View All
Exit the King
Add to favourites
ArchivedOld Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo, Sydney 18 Mar - 10 Apr 2021

Exit the King

The Old Fitz Theatre returns with a new interpretation of Ionesco’s classic absurdist comedy, directed by Megan Wilding.

New York Dialects
Add to favourites
DanceJoan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House 6 - 24 Apr 2021

New York Dialects

The Australian Ballet presents two revered classics from George Balanchine alongside a brand-new creation from 21st-century innovator Pam Tanowitz.

seven methods of killing kylie jenner
Add to favourites
TheatreEternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst, Sydney 17 Apr - 2 May 2021

seven methods of killing kylie jenner

UK playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones dives into the murky waters of colourism and the commodification of black womxn.

Stop Girl
Add to favourites
TheatreBelvoir, Surry Hills, Sydney 20 Mar - 25 Apr 2021

Stop Girl

From journalist-turned-playwright Sally Sara, a new play about the front lines of normal life.

Top