Recently I spent a couple of Sunday hours at Monash, watching opera. As someone who isn’t very into theatre, likes classical music, but never felt drawn to opera, I didn’t know what to expect. In fact, I knew very little about the production until just before.
I was confused – a symphony, on a Sunday, that was free? That was the first pleasant surprise. The second was seeing that the production was Bluebeard’s Castle. As a huge fan of Gothic fiction, who has always been fascinated by the story of Bluebeard since reading Angela Carter’s retelling, I was excited that out of all the days in the season, this was the one I had stumbled on. A Gothic horror and musical experience in the darkened Robert Blackwood Hall while an icy wind whipped around outside Clayton? I was convinced.
Prior to the main event, we had a treat in the form of excerpts from the Hary Janos Suite – short and glorious samples of music by Zoltan Kodaly. Then we had Thomas Reiner’s Lacan: Ein Lehrstuck, an ‘educational’ piece on the works of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. The stunningly powerful soprano Jessica Aszodi took us through Lacan’s ideas about our world: The Symbolic, the Imaginary, and the Real, accompanied by pieces I recognized, and some that were new.
After that wonderful introduction, we were primed to be introduced to the horrors that awaited us in Bluebeard’s Castle. The singers told the story through a cascade of different emotions, with music alternately light and airy to thudding and full of dread. Judith, the young beauty, after her marriage to the lonely man in his cold castle, attempts to bring light and happiness in through seven locked doors.
Famous names were there on stage: Deborah Humble, in the role of Judith, and Warwick Fyfe in the devilish, Gothic Duke Bluebeard. They both enthralled me with their presence, and it felt like stealing to bask in such talent for free.
Bluebeard’s Castle is unusual for an opera – told in just one act, and lasting just over an hour, it has a commanding dramatic orchestra. Rather than elaborate sets and costumes, Bartok’s music drives the story.
If you’re new to opera or classical music, the concerts, plays or performance art put on by Monash Academy of Performing Arts are a great introduction. You don’t have to be a theatre buff to go along and have a great experience. There’s no pressure to dress up, the sessions are a great length, and several of them – including special rarities such as Bluebeard’s Castle – are FREE!