Founded by director and writer Daisy Evans and conductor, musical director, arranger and producer Stephen Higgins, innovative opera company Theatre of Sound launches this month with a brand new immersive production of Bluebeard’s Castle (1918) by Béla Bartók.
Usually presented as a Gothic horror story centred on an abusive relationship, this new, fully staged presentation reimagines the piece as a love story between a long-married couple – Duke Bluebeard and Judith – coming to terms with living with dementia. Instead of hiding Bluebeard’s terrible secrets, locked castle doors become locked-in memories in Judith’s mind.
Performances will take place at Stone Nest, a stunning former Welsh chapel in the heart of London’s West End, from 4-14 November. Sung in English in a newly commissioned translation, the production features a stellar cast of singers, with sopranos Susan Bullock and Gweneth Ann Rand sharing the role of Judith, and bass-baritone Gerald Finley and baritone Michael Mayes that of Duke Bluebeard.
The production is directed by Evans, Higgins and their creative team. Higgins conducts players from the London Sinfonietta in a new chamber orchestration.
Evans commented: “Bluebeard’s Castle is one of my all-time favourite operas, and I always understood Bluebeard’s music was filled with intense love and devotion. I want to tell this tale not as a gothic nightmare, but a love story whilst also increasing awareness and understanding around the power of music for people living with dementia.”
The idea for the production came about a couple of years ago when Higgins was working with Gerald Finley on another production of Bluebeard’s Castle. While learning and discovering the opera for the first time, in between rehearsals Higgins was also spending time with his ageing grandmother at her dementia care home, experiencing first hand the devastation of the condition.
“This extraordinary masterpiece has been a favourite of mine since childhood, and to have the chance to work with such an amazing cast and creative team to bring it to life in this evocative and extraordinary setting is the fulfilment of a long-held dream,” Higgins said. “I am particularly excited to reframe the story as a love letter from a devoted husband – a radical reinterpretation which has made me listen to the piece with completely new ears.”
Tickets are on sale now and cost from £35, with concessions also available, including an offer of 10 tickets per show at £20 for under 25s.
In addition to the opera, Theatre of Sound has also teamed up with Live Music Now and the London Sinfonietta to create a complementary project called Judith’s Castle which has used some of the themes of Bartok’s work to create new pieces of music theatre, working with families living with dementia.
Composer Electra Perivolaris and musicians from both the Sinfonietta and Live Music Now spent time with those living with dementia, working with both the carers and the cared for. The new works inspired by this project will be premiered on the set of the opera production.
These performances will be presented as informal concerts featuring Perivolaris’s new pieces alongside poetry and prose readings including by actor and Alzheimer’s Society ambassador Kevin Whately, and mini-lectures from experts in the field of music and dementia including Julian West, a leading expert in the field of dementia and music research. The concerts will end with an opportunity for a dialogue between the audience and performers to discuss the role music can play to improve the lives of those living with dementia.
The shows will take place at 2pm on 6 November and 13 November in relaxed performances at Stone Nest, performed by musicians from the London Sinfonietta and Live Music Now together with singers Gweneth Ann Rand and Michael Mayes. Entry is free, but tickets must be booked in advance and are strictly limited.
Composer Perivolaris said: “I am delighted to be working with Theatre of Sound, Live Music Now and the London Sinfonietta on Judith’s Castle. I see the composer as playing a significant role in the community and my work on inclusive projects with different societal groups has shaped my compositional practice.
“Having worked as a composer with the Wigmore Hall Learning department and Glyndebourne Opera on projects for people living with dementia, I am committed to challenging perceptions of dementia through music. Judith’s Castle is an important initiative which will enable us to develop shared understandings through collaborative composition with families affected by dementia. Together we will create a lasting legacy through the new pieces of music.
“I am looking forward to sharing the stories of the people who I am working with, and to celebrating the intrinsic creativity and energy which exists within everyone regardless of age.”
For more information about Theatre of Sound, visit the company’s website.
New company Theatre of Sound will present a radically reimagined version of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle at London’s Stone Nest this month.