Theatre of Sound’s production of Bluebeard’s Castle

A touching, poignant, and thought-provoking experience. An undoubted triumph for opera company Theatre of Sound.

Staging Bartok’s retelling of the Bluebeard legend through the lens of a woman with dementia and her carer-husband was a refreshing move on the part of director Daisy Evans and conductor Stevie Higgins. No great surprise perhaps given that both of them are energised by seeing the conventional from unusual perspectives, something reflected in their podcast interview.

It’s also manifest in every aspect of the Bluebeard’s Castle (4-14 November 2021) – an intimate production at the gorgeous brick-lined Stone Nest in Shaftesbury Avenue (surely a venue which needs to be made more of), audience sat in a horsehoe around a compact stage comprising multiple levels. Resourceful lighting design and the building’s generous acoustics projected this production on a much bigger scale; proximity to proceedings made it a touching, poignant, and thought-provoking experience for the audience.

I’ve not heard soprano Gweneth Ann Rand before and I am very keen to hear more of her. A rich comforting sound, even in the character’s most pained sequences, made her utterly compelling. Both her voice and Gerald Finley (Bluebeard) suited the small space really well.

Special reference should be made to the orchestrations by conductor Stephen Higgins. Paring back the score to clarinet, horn, string trio and keyboard for players in the London Sinfonietta exposed the brilliance in Bartok’s harmonic writing and, in places, gave the work an almost Britten feel.

Julian West

This is an undoubted triumph for Theatre of Sound – their first production, not only because of the core production but the parallel project ‘Judith’s Castle’ by composer Electra Perivolaris. The matinee performance paired with spoken word from actor Kevin Whately, Royal Academy of Music’s Julian West, and Imperial College’s Francesco Aprile brought just enough information to expose some of the misconceptions about dementia the disease. Julian West in particular has an unfailing ability to introduce a subject in such a way that you want to discover more about it. Little wonder he’s doing the work he is in the field of music and dementia.

In expanding their initiating idea for Bluebeard’s Castle, Theatre of Sound have deftly opened up a conversation about a difficult subject in an engaging way, and have done so just at a moment in time when the challenges of social care have featured more prominently in the media. I cannot wait for their next project.