David Lampard is directing Bluebeard’s Castle for State Opera of South Australia in April, in a double bill with Wolf- Ferrari’s Il segreto di Susanna.
When a door swings wide open in the lonely abode of Duke Bluebeard’s castle to reveal his vast sunlit kingdom, we hear what is perhaps the most magically entrancing music that Bartok wrote. Bluebeard’s Castle might resemble a children’s fairy tale, but it has the darkest of psychological themes running through it. Judith, Bluebeard’s betrothed, demands to see what lies inside the castle’s seven mysterious chambers, and, opening the doors one by one, she discovers bloodstained instruments of torture, an armoury, a treasury, a secret flower garden and a lake of tears. Some have suggested Bartok was describing himself in his only opera – where each chamber represents a facet of the Duke’s troubled soul. He is doomed to eternal sadness as Judith finds herself locked away forever, along with a string of his previous wives, in the final chamber. Director David Lampard believes Bluebeard’s Castle is a darkly coloured, allegorical self-portrait. “ The castle is listed as part of the cast, which is highly interesting in itself, and in a sense it is Bartok portraying himself in this opera. Every door is a wound in him. That relationship between Judith and himself is multi-layered and highly fascinating. When the seventh door opens, much finally becomes apparent, but we want to keep that a secret. We want the audience to be able to assess what it means for themselves, to bring their own experiences and answers.” Lampard is directing Bluebeard’s Castle for State Opera of South Australia in April, in a double bill with Wolf- Ferrari’s Il segreto di Susanna. Chalk and cheese these two short one-act operas might be, but both deal with the notion of secrets, Lampard says, and it makes sense to pair them. “Il segreto is very fiery and Italian by comparison, and theatrically like a Noël Coward-esque farce. You have two tempestuous characters, Countess Susanna and Count Gil, one of whom is hiding a secret from the other. It soon becomes pretty obvious. She’s a smoker, but he suspects a lover is seeing her. Il segreto does wear its heart on its sleeve, and their differences resolve uneventfully in a sort of ‘let’s get on with life’ fun spirit. But it nevertheless links with Bluebeard’s Castle in this notion of what we disguise and hold back from people in the form of secrets. “That secretiveness can take the form of addictions and obsessions, and it is real enough for all of us in a day-to-day sense. I think we can all relate to it.” Lampard points out that Bluebeard’s Castle and Il segreto were composed within two years of each other – 1911 and 1909 respectively – and to his knowledge they have never before been staged together. The same set design, which Lampard has designed himself, will be used for both operas. This, he says, will visually link them: “There’s certainly a moment where it becomes clear, where something happens to one of the characters that links the two story elements.” He has even helped build the sets himself. “I’m not the best at carpentry, and I leave the trickier stu to others, but it is really nice to be part of the fabrication process.” By profession, the Adelaide-based Lampard is both a designer and director. His entrée to opera began with vocal studies at the Elder Conservatorium as part of a science degree, and when he sang in Graeme Dudley’s The Snow Queen for the 1985 Come Out youth festival. “That experience blew me away,” he says. Over the years, Lampard has designed sets for Singular Productions and Elder Hall operas, directed shows for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and worked as assistant director for State Opera’s La Traviata (2014). He says he became attracted to “creating worlds as sculptural spaces” in which actors can move expressively. “In smaller shows where the budget doesn’t spread as far as you’d like, you do find yourself doing much more hands-on design. The benefit is that you get to understand the whole concept and how all the elements fit together.” Timothy Sexton, State Opera’s CEO, observes: “David is clever director and a great designer. The combination gives him the ability to come up with very integrated productions.” Sexton sees Bluebeard’s Castle and Il segreto as perfect foils for each other. “Il segreto is like the flipside of Bluebeard. It takes us back to a former time and offers a window to the self. The music is fantastic and the story an amusing sitcom predicated on keeping secrets. Expect something along the lines of Lucille Ball, or perhaps Neighbours and Home and Away.” With another double bill later this year – Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne and Offenbach’s La chanson de Fortunio in October – State Opera is returning to one of its strengths, that of doing smaller, lowcost operas well. In this year that sees the National Opera Review assessing the artistic vitality of State Opera of SA among other companies, it is probably a good move. Says Sexton: “Chamber operas enable people to see opera in bite-sized chunks and at a fraction of the cost [of mainstage productions] while experiencing the full gamut of the opera experience. Plus they are a really good vehicle for local singers and production teams.” State Opera Bluebeard’s Castle and Il segreto di Susanna Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18 The Opera Studio saopera.sa.gov.au