REVIEW: The 8th Door / Bluebeard’s Castle – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Karen Cargill David Hayward Bluebeard's castle theatre Royal Scottish opera glasgow

You must admire the bold, brave, artistic choices that have characterised Scottish Opera’s current season. However, whether these choices resonate with its current, loyal audience remains to be seen.

Lliam Paterson and Vanishing Point’s Matthew Lenton’s new commission The 8th Door has been devised as a companion piece to Béla Bartók’s sublime Bluebeard’s Castle, the intention being that they, (according to the programme notes) “complement each other’s artistic ambition and vision, through a provocative evening”. This world-premiere work provides plenty food for thought.

A relationship plays out before us from its inception to its demise, two actors, facing video cameras, their backs to the audience, their emotions projected onto screens. From the pit, six voices, accompanied by a stunningly good orchestra, sing a text based on the works of Bartók’s artistic contemporaries: Endre Ady, Judit Frigyesi, Sándor Weöres and Attila József, as well as Edwin Morgan.

While Paterson’s score is innovative in its approach and delivery, it wears the influence of Bartók’s work on its sleeve. However, it suffers in comparison. While Bluebeard’s Castle is a masterpiece, a shimmering, intensely unsettling, but beautifully scored existential tragedy, The 8th Door feels unremittingly dull and repetitive. This coupled with Matthew Lenton’s direction and Kai Fischer’s design, which instead of bringing freshness and modernity, is oddly outdated. Locked in their own vision of ‘modernity’ they seem to have failed to notice the real innovations in staging that are currently happening in theatre. (On a side note, among the clock-watching and harrumphing, there were two different walk-outs at around the 10-15 minute mark in my corner of the auditorium, both only returning to hear Bartók’s piece).

While Paterson’s brand spanking new work seems long at 40 minutes, Bluebeard’s Castle whips along at a cracking pace. Bartók’s 1918 modernist horror work feeling more innovative, more compelling and more resonant. As Bluebeard and Judith, Robert Hayward and Karen Cargill are in stunning vocal form and the orchestra of Scottish Opera, in particular its brass section, have rarely sounded finer.

While a journey into darkness and an unremitting blackness unite the two works, it’s the near 100 year-old piece that really resonates.

Runs on selected dates until 1 April then touring to Edinburgh Festival Theatre on 5 and 8 April 2017

For more information visit http://www.scottishopera.org.com