A Hand of Bridge / Bluebeard’s Castle
Good things come in small packages – this certainly holds true for the double feature of A Hand of Bridge / Bluebeard’s Castle at Venice’s Gran Teatro La Fenice. Two one-act operas, loosely connected by the general theme of married life, will entertain audiences with the musical styles of 20th-century composers Samuel Barber and Béla Bartók. The single-location settings of the two works allow for the music and the character development to take dramatic lead, and the results are thoroughly enjoyable and titillating.
Samuel Barber’s short opera A Hand of Bridge lasts under ten minutes and depicts two married couples gathered around a table playing cards, as its title suggests. The clever libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti lets each of the four characters reveal inner frustrations, aspirations and hopes within the scope of an arietta. In the short time span, we hear about Sally’s desire to buy a peacock hat and to be taken more seriously, about her husband Bill’s affair, and about Geraldine and David’s loveless and frustrated marriage. A clever jazzy theme unites the four ariettas. The premiere took place in Spoleto, during the Festival of Two Worlds, on 17 June 1959; since then, A Hand of Bridge remains the shortest opera in the active catalogue.
Next comes Bluebeard’s Castle by the inimitable Béla Bartók. Originally created in 1911, the one-act opera was premiered at Budapest’s Royal Hungarian Opera House on 24 May 1918 after several rounds of modifications. The libretto by Béla Balázs takes its cue from the classic fairy tale La Barbe bleue by the French writer Charles Perrault. Bluebeard and his new wife Judith arrive at his resplendent but dark castle. The duke implores his spouse not to open any of the locked doors but to simply love him. She, however, persists. As door after door open, the shocking discoveries and Bartók’s expressionist score make Bluebeard’s Castle a thrilling rollercoaster ride all the way to the bombastic finale.