Despite occasional successful stagings of this opera, it is concert performances that stir up the feelings of audiences most. I have witnessed many times in
performances of this psycho-drama that listeners, staring at the faces of the two singers for sixty minutes, or following a surtitled or printed libretto translation
during Bartók’s deeply emotional music, were confronted with themselves. The prologue is very important; this is in fact a story about us. Usually, after the opera has
ended, discussions break out, dividing men and women. Whereas everybody seems to understand why Judit cannot resist her desire to open all the doors, Bluebeard’s
character remains controversial. Is it right or wrong, necessary or unnecessary to keep certain doors closed? Why does he need to lock Judit up after she has discovered his secrets? Is the blood real, or does it exist only in Judit’s fearful imagination? This Bluebeard is not a killer, even if he has a bad reputation and Judita sees blood
everywhere. All the earlier wives are alive in his heart, behind closed doors. Bartók, who was himself a closed, shy man, seems to have been fascinated by strange-looking characters who turn out to feel endless love. This links Bluebeard to the Miraculous Mandarin.
I am very grateful to Mr Vikárius and Mr Somfai of the Bartók archive in Budapest, who drew my attention to a number of errors in the printed score which we
have been able to correct in this new recording. I also want to thank the Budapest State Opera, who lent us the very rare keyboard xylophone which gives the torture chamber scene its authentic colour.