In the hall of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Bluebeard enters with his new wife, Judith, who sings of her love for him. She explores his castle which is dark, icy and gloomy, with condensation on the walls as if the castle is weeping. Judith tells Bluebeard that she has come to bring light and warmth into his castle, but Bluebeard says that will never happen. Judith sees seven locked doors, and asks that they be opened; but her husband warns her that it could be dangerous for her to know what is behind them. She knocks on the first door, and hears the castle sighing. Bluebeard gives her the key. She opens it and is horrified to discover Bluebeard’s torture chamber. Claiming to be unafraid, she requests the key to the second door, and opens it to reveal his armoury.
Judith persists in her demands to see behind the remaining doors, and Bluebeard finally agrees to give her three more keys, but warns her not to ask any questions about what she finds. As she opens each door in turn, she discovers Bluebeard’s treasury, his secret garden, and his vast realm. Bluebeard warns that this would be a good place to stop.
Judith does not want to stop, and insists that he give her the key to the sixth door, which reveals a lake of tears. Bluebeard refuses to give up the seventh and final key. Judith demands to know about the women Bluebeard has loved before her and, when he will not answer, becomes convinced that these women are behind the last door. Finally, Bluebeard gives up the key to the seventh door, and as Judith opens it, three women silently enter the hall. Judith is overwhelmed by their beauty, and Bluebeard tells her that these are the brides of his morning, noon and evening. As the brides return to the seventh door, Bluebeard crowns Judith the bride of his night, the most beautiful of all his wives, and Judith joins them in silence. As the door closes, Bluebeard is left alone in the darkness of his castle.
The Woman is in a state of expectation and apprehension. It soon becomes apparent, as she distractedly speaks to herself, that she is waiting for a man. She discovers something in the darkness, which she at first perceives to be a body but then realizes it is a tree trunk.
Frightened, she grows more anxious, as the man she is looking for is not to be found. Suddenly, she finds a dead body, and realizes, to her horror, that it is the man she has been waiting for. Is she hallucinating? She calls for help, but there is no response to her cries. Hoping that the man is still alive, she attempts to revive him. She speaks to him as if he can comprehend, and angrily accuses him of infidelity to her. She then asks herself what she is to do with her life, now that her lover is dead.
(l-r) Mark Johnson as the Psychiatrist and Krisztina Szabó as the Woman in the Canadian Opera Company production of Erwartung, 2015. Photo: Michael Cooper