Bluebeard’s Castle

for Chamber Ensemble
Orchestration Christopher van Tuinen / Revision Michael Young

English Symphony Orchestra
Kenneth Woods, Conductor

April Fredrick, Judith / David Stout, Bluebeard

Music from Wyastone – Studio Concert Series
Online 13 – 17 August 2021
from 7:30pm (GMT)
Available afterwards through the ESO subscriber’s digital archive
New reduced orchestration
The English Symphony Orchestra (ESO) complete their first year of Music from Wyastone virtual concerts with a concert performance of Béla Bartók’s one-act opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, written in 1911. The performance, which premieres on ESO Digital at 7:30pm on Friday 13 August, is the first of a new reduced orchestration of the opera for 25 performers including organ, by Australian conductor and arranger Christopher van Tuinen, and revised by Michael Karcher-Young the ESO’s Assistant Conductor. The work is sung in Hungarian with English subtitles.

An old tale re-imagined
Bartók was spurred on to set the libretto by the Jewish-Hungarian writer and critic Béla Balázs, after losing a competition. Balázs originally wrote the libretto for their mutual friend, composer Zoltán Kodály. The opera languished without a performance for several years, causing Bartók to lament to his wife, Márta, (to whom it was dedicated): “Now I know that I will never hear it in this life. You asked me to play it for you – I am afraid I would not be able to get through it. Still I will try, so that we may mourn it together.”
In Balázs re-telling of the Bluebeard legend, the title character is not a murderer, according to the composer; “The images of the Castle are allegorical pictures of the soul, expressing “the tragedy of a soul destined to be alone. The holy feeling of love dies by becoming every-day. His loves live, but no longer in his life.”
Jane Eyre Reunion
The ESO performance of Bluebeard’s Castle reunites soprano April Fredrick as Judith and baritone David Stout as Kékszakállú (Bluebeard). Previously for the ESO, Fredrick and Stout led the cast for the world premiere of John Joubert’s opera Jane Eyre in 2016. This performance was named Classical Music Magazine ‘Premiere of the Year’ and chosen as the Birmingham Post’s Classical Highlight of the year. The subsequent Somm Records recording of Jane Eyre was later chosen as ‘Opera Recording of the Year’ by Music Web International.
“Vocally, David and April are perfect for Bartók’s two roles, which in many ways fall in between the cracks of our normal voice types, says ESO Conductor and Artistic Director Kenneth Woods. Both roles need a mix of power and lyricism, and ease and projection at both the extreme upper and lower end of their registers. But aside from their vocal and musical qualities, I was fascinated by the connections between the characters of Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre, and Bluebeard. Both Jane Eyre and Bluebeard’s Castle deal with the limitations of intimacy, and it’s not hard to imagine the ending of Jane Eyre segueing into the beginning of Bluebeard’s Castle.”
A legacy of new work from the Covid era
With orchestras all over the world sharing their performances online, the ESO chose to focus on the most distinctive work they could. This has included premieres of new works by Adrian Williams, Philip Sawyers, Emily Doolittle, Robert Saxton, Tom Kraines, Steven R. Gerber, Kile Smith, Jay Reise and Donald Fraser and new arrangements of major works by Elgar, Mahler, Humperdinck, Schubert and Strauss. The ESO’s longstanding support for the music of composers whose music was suppressed by the Nazis continued, with performances of works by Weinberg, Schulhoff, Krenek, Ulmann and Hans Gál, as was their advocacy for the music of African American composers, including Blake, Europe and Joplin.
Expanding and diversifying the repertoire is key part of ESO’s mission
The musicians of the ESO are looking forward to returning to live performance on 28 July when they premiere Steve Elcock’s Symphony No.8  (as part of their 21st C. Symphony Project) and a new version of Emily Doolittle’s Woodwings at the Three Choirs Festival and the intention is to continue sharing their work via ESO Digital. “Expanding and diversifying the repertoire is a key part of our mission,” says CEO Andy Farquharson. “The digital tools we’ve developed over the last year give us the opportunity to build an international audience for deserving pieces, artists and composers.” How to listen
Access to the concert is via the event website:
The performance premieres on Friday 13 August at 7:30pm and is available free-to-view for four days and afterwards through the ESO digital archive where unlimited access to ESO subscribers offers exclusive content and events for supporters who donate a minimum of £5/month:

ESO Future plans
The orchestra’s What’s On page provides details of future plans: