Composers: Bartók
Compositions: Bluebeard’s Castle
Performers: John Relyea b, Michelle DeYoung ms, Bergen Philharmonic/Gardner
Catalogue Number: CHANDOS CHSA5237 (SACD)

Bela Bartók’s sole opera Bluebeard’s Castle was written in 1911 when he was 30. It is based on the 17th-century French folktale of Bluebeard, a rich nobleman who dwells in a castle of locked doors and whose beautiful young wives keep mysteriously disappearing. Somewhat ominously, Bartók dedicated the opera to his own teenaged wife Márta, who would later be supplanted by one of her husband’s (19-year-old) piano students when he was 42.

Bluebeard’s Castle is an extraordinary work, a tense one-act psychodrama in which Kékszakállú (Bluebeard) and his latest wife Judit are the central players. Bartók’s riveting orchestrations reflect the plot’s escalating tensions, with bursts of colour, terrifying rhythmic eruptions and lush string textures handled with requisite drama by Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic.

Canadian bass John Relyea’s Bluebeard is magnificent – mysterious, troubled and deeply unsettling in rich, commanding tones. In recent years, mezzo Michelle DeYoung has made the role of Judit her own, her expansive timbre well-suited to its demands. Noteworthy among many enthralling passages is Judit’s opening of the fifth door – a massive apocalyptic blast of brass and organ. With DeYoung soaring Valkyrie-like overhead and in superb Chandos Super Audio, this is a heart-stopping moment of tension in a recording of truly incredible quality.