Like Béla Bartók, many turn of the century composers were attracted to the story of Duke Bluebeard, perhaps because for the first time the complexity of women was being taken seriously. Major novelists like the Brontës and George Sand, and characters in literature like Madame Bovary, meant that all of a sudden, Bluebeardwas seen as not just a European version of the Thousand and One Nights, but a deeper questioning of the differences between the sexes.
On the one hand, you can look at Perrault’s 1697 folk tale with its inquisitive wife as an extension of the Wagnerian Lohengrin-Elsa dilemma or the Christian idea of Eve’s curiosity being her downfall, but by the time we get to the works of Maeterlinck, which influenced Béla Balázs’ poem from which Bartók’s libretto was taken, there was a sense that psychoanalysis had gazed into the depths of the human soul. It’s as if you are looking into a very deep well and you can’t see the bottom, but occasionally you can put a bucket down and bring something up.
Richard Burton as Bluebeard in the 1972 film
Bluebeard’s Castleis less an...