A secret garden emerges behind door number four, and Bluebeard’s vast kingdom becomes visible behind the fifth. When she opens the sixth door, “a lake of tears” casts an ominous shadow over the entire castle. Bluebeard insists that the last door must be shut forever. To no avail, Judith discovers his three former wives wearing crowns and heavy jewels. Bluebeard praises each former wife and introduced Judith as his fourth. Horrified, Judith begs him to stop, but it is too late. He dresses her in jewelry and a crown, and Judith follows the other wives through the seventh door. It closes behind her, and everything fades into utter darkness.
When Bartók submitted the work to the Hungarian Fine Arts Commission, it was flatly rejected as “unplayable.” Bartók made some modifications in 1912 and added a new ending in 1917, but the work was only premiered on 24 May 1918 at the Royal Hungarian Opera House in Budapest. With Oszkár Kálmán as the first Bluebeard and Olga Haselbeck as the first Judith, the opera was considered a success, although some critics declared it “far too dark.” When the Hungarian Soviet Republic under Béla Kun exiled the librettist Béla Balázs in 1919, Bartók refused to suppress his name on subsequent performances. In fact, Bartók withdrew the work and Duke Bluebeard’s Castle disappeared from the Budapest stage for almost 20 years.
Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle