EIF Review: Bluebeard’s Castle – Church Hill Theatre

Lester Lynch - Susan Bullock - Bluebeard's Castle - Edinburgh International Festival 2023 - Credit Latitude Media - Review at TheQR.co.uk

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I deliberately did not read up on this new production of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, from new opera company Theatre of Sound. All I knew was that it was not as first staged, which has proved quite the understatement. However, I encourage you also, if possible, to remain in the dark before your own trip to the Church Hill theatre.

Sung in English, the 2 strong (singing) cast are accompanied by a compact, but mighty Hebrides Ensemble thanks to a new chamber orchestration from Stephen Higgins. Said cast consists of 2 rotating pairs, and on theQR’s visit, it would be baritone Lester Lynch as Bluebeard and soprano Susan Bullock in the role of new wife Judith.

Originally a symbolist horror tale, director Daisy Evans relocates the action away from a dark fairytale castle, and into the safe domesticity of an everyday home. In place of a thousand locked doors, there is one locked trunk in a living room. If you, like me, make the wise to watch this procution uninformed, then the creeping horror of this new narrative unfolds gradually, only falling fully into place in the final clutch of scenes. Evans paces the tale telling so very well, exploiting the rhythm in score and libretto to create a string of well formed vignettes.

Lynch is a wonderfully warm, and sympathetic figure, his rich, powerful voice wrapping the words in velvet, and heartbreak. Bullock captures all of the original Judith’s horror, filling the minor second ‘blood’ motifs with a mounting lacing of mania.

At 1 hour 10 minutes, Bluebeard’s Castle is a concise, punchy experience, one fated to end in deep melancholia, but unafraid to find the light along the way. It’s also a particular delight to experience opera of such high-quality in the relatively intimate surroundings of the Church Hill Theatre. Without need to play for volume, the assembled talents can freely explore each and every nuance. The result is simply splendid.

Which is about all I can say in this spoiler-free review. See this production of Bluebeard’s Castle if you can, it’s bold, imaginative, and wonderfully performed.

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