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241th Season

Main Stage

14 September
2023 | Thursday
Evening of the one-act performances: A csodálatos mandarin. Duke Bluebeard`s Castle
Artists Credits
Ballet company
Music by Bela Bartok
Choreography by Yuri Possokhov (revisions)

A csodálatos mandarin

Premiere: 7 April 2017, The Cleveland Orchestra and The Joffrey Ballet
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 27 June 2023

Running time: 35 minutes

Age category 16+
Music by Béla Bartók
Libretto by Melchior Lendiel
Сhoreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Light Design: Ivan Vinogradov
There is a room in a big city where three criminals force a street girl to lure clients. She dances in front of an open window. The first client comes her way. He dances with the girl, and then the criminals attempt to mug him. However, having found nothing valuable, they dismiss the loser. The pattern gets repeated with the next client. The third client to respond to the girl's enchanting dance is a mandarin, a Chinese official. He looks at the temptress, and an enormous passion possesses this newcomer from another world. He pursues the girl, trying to embrace her, all in vain. Finally, the three robbers emerge from their hiding place to finish the stranger off. After robbing the mandarin, they attempt to kill him, but he keeps coming back to life, driven by his insatiable passion that is stronger than death itself. Only when the girl takes him into her arms do the charms of immortality disappear. The mandarin dies.

It was the success of the Diaghilev company, which in the 1910s made ballet a fashionable and popular musical genre, that inspired the Hungarian composer Belo Bartok to turn to ballet. However, the eerie expressionist plot which underlies the libretto of The Miraculous Mandarin, did not allow this work to be critically acclaimed in the 1920s. The administration of the Budapest Opera that had vouched to stage the ballet was put off by the “immorality of the plot”. The Cologne Opera House dared to mount The Miraculous Mandarin in 1926, but the performance was soon removed from the repertoire. The music gained recognition only after the composer’s death: since the late 1940s, its choreographic interpretations began to appear in various theaters around the world. Among their authors were Fleming Flindt, Roland Petit, Leonid Lavrovsky, who staged his version at the Bolshoi Theater with a slightly modified (to be less shocking) libretto.

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov, in his version of The Miraculous Mandarin, does not deviate from Bartok's ideas. “The more you listen to this music, the deeper you delve into it and always find something new,” says the choreographer while emphasizing that in creating the choreography he relied mostly on the music. The emotional dance of the soloists does fully justify the intricacies of the magical mystery plot in this minimalist and spectacular performance.

Duke Bluebeard's Castle

World Premiere: 24 May, 1918, Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest
Performance premiere: 7 April 2017, The Cleveland Orchestra and The Joffrey Ballet
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 27 June 2023

Running time: 1 hour

Age category 16+
Music by Béla Bártok
Libretto by Béla Balázs, based on the play Ariane et Barbe-bleue written by Maurice Maeterlinck

Stage Director: Yuri Possokhov
Lighting Designer: Ivan Vinogradov
Musical Preparation: Natalia Mordashova

Duke Bluebeard brings his young wife Judith to his dark castle. She is madly in love with him. It was for the sake of the formidable and aloof duke that the woman left her home, her relatives, and her fiance. Now Judith, accompanied by her husband, looks around his possessions. She is surprised to discover the infamous seven doors to Bluebeard's bloody past. Judith demands the keys to open each door. The game begins: she sees instruments of torture, weapons, jewelry, flowers and wonderful miracles, but everything is soaked in blood. Judith needs the truth, she can not rest until she opens the last door. Behind this door, a terrible truth is finally revealed to Judith, thus confirming the legend of Duke Bluebeard's castle.

Duke Bluebeard's Castle, Béla Bartók's first and only opera, was written by the young composer in 1911. At two consecutive opera competitions held in Budapest in 1911 and 1912, The Castle was rejected as unperformable. The premiere took place a little later, in Budapest on May 24, 1918 under the baton of conductor Egisto Tango.

The one-act opera is based on Maurice Maeterlinck's play Ariana and the Bluebeard. In it, the protagonist’s wives symbolize the periods of his life: morning – afternoon – evening – night. (A curious coincidence: the year Bartók was working on The Castle the playwright was awarded the Nobel Prize.) Bartók's work was strongly influenced by another opera based on Maeterlinck's story, Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. Events unfold just as unhurriedly, each of them having a symbolic meaning, and the orchestra is just as lavish and sophisticated.

The real protagonist of Bartók's opera is a mysterious castle that Bluebeard shows to his young wife. Behind seven doors, as if behind seven seals, the secrets of the owner's soul are hidden.

The immortal plot is moved to Bartok's native soil. The libretto by Bela Balažs, originally intended for another Hungarian composer, Zoltan Kodály, is written in the meter of traditional Székely ballads (according to a legend, Count Dracula came from the Székelys). The structure of the music, especially the Bluebeard’s part, fully corresponds to the neo-folklore structure of the verse. After all, traveling accompanied by a wax roller phonograph (and then processing the songs he had recorded) was nearly the only thing that consoled the composer at the time his music was considered too radical to be performed.

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