Push! Pull! Buckle! Shriek! In Barrie Kosky‘s Oper Frankfurt double bill of Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle, the characters of Henry Purcell‘s Restoration tragedy and Bela Bartok‘s Freudian fairytale freeze in crisis: fingers splayed, bodies jack-knifed, lungs bursting, lips pulled back in silent screams. All are human and all are monsters, from sycophantic courtier to insecure wife, feckless hero to multiple murderer.
These operas have more in common than their composers’ audacious compression of ancient stories. There is the steady circularity of musical structures, in the sighing chromatic repetitions of Purcell’s bass lines, and the slow creep of Bartók’s journey from his first morbid shiver of F sharp to the blaze of C and back again. And there is the identification of a moment in which love is damaged beyond repair.
Opera-lovers with an eye for cheap flights may have seen Kosky’s double bill in Germany. For the rest of us, the Edinburgh International Festival was the only chance to see this remarkable pairing, one work scored for a lithe ensemble of violins, oboe, recorder, organ and harpsichord, and decorated with wild trills and violent glissandi under Constantinos Carydis, the other written for an orchestra as vast as the castle and estate it describes.