Michael Powell (director)
63 min (length)
04 December 2023 (released)
05 December 2023
This ‘lost’ masterpiece from acclaimed director Michael Powell is a stunning adaptation of Béla Bartok’s expressionist opera. Often deemed as too tricky to adapt due to its lack of action and multiple characters, this 1963 film version (originally made for West German television) instead focuses on the psychological aspect of the opera – visually enriched thanks to Academy Award-winning German designer Hein Heckroth’s bold and innovative set designs.
‘Herzog Blaubart’s Burg’ (‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle’) is a short opera written in 1911 by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók to a symbolist libretto by poet Béla Balázs. At the time, the opera was considered as an oddity not commercial enough to adapt for the stage (let alone the screen), as it lacks action and above all, the usual cast of god knows how many characters – so typical of operas. Featuring only two characters and with an incredibly short running time, it wasn’t until 1918 before Bartók’s opera received its stage debut and it wasn’t until 1963 when director Powell (‘The Red Shows’ / ‘Peeping Tom’) lent his undisputable talent for this engaging film adaptation.
Based on the French folktale of Bluebeard, the wife-killer of legend, writer Balázs’ adaptation is a modified version of the tale. American operatic bass-baritone Norman Foster (who also produced the film), takes on the lead role while Uruguayan operatic mezzo-soprano Ana Raquel Satre plays his fourth wife Judit, who uncovers Bluebeard’s dark secret and unlocks his sinister psyche via gradually opening the seven doors in this castle. Each room displays breathtaking and surreal set designs full of Freudian symbolism. Upon opening the door to the seventh room, Judit – to her terror – finds Bluebeard’s previous three wives incarcerated and draped in strange-looking, abstract objects. Their eyes closed, it’s not entirely made clear whether they are dead (murdered by Bluebeard) or in a state of permanent sleep… but Judit must now take her place among them.
Were it not for the striking visuals, which really make this film, the opera alone would not hold much water despite the undeniable on-screen chemistry of the two leads (accompanied by the Zagreb Symphony Orchestra). Thankfully though, BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE is more a feast for the eyes than a feast for die-hard opera fans. Just released on Blu-ray in a stunning restoration, it all looks more stunning than ever before!
Optional audio track of the English translation / Newly recorded interview with film scholar Ian Christie / ‘Michael Powell at Dartmouth’ (16 mins docu from 1980) / Image gallery of the production designs by Hein Heckroth / Optional English subtitles / Fully illustrated booklet (first pressing only).