Senza Sangue/Bluebeard’s Castle at Hackney Empire, London – ‘dramatically enigmatic’

Albane Carrere and Romain Bockler in Senza Sangue at Hackney Empire. Photo: Anett Kallay-Toth
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Hackney Empire is clearly strengthening its opera programming. For this flying visit by a European company that is an offshoot of the Armel Opera Festival, Hungarian conductor Peter Eotvos presents one of his recent works, intended to be a companion piece to Bartok’s powerful one-act opera, Bluebeard’s Castle.

Setting an Italian libretto derived by Eotvos’ wife Mari Mezei from the 2002 novel Without Blood by Alessandro Baricco, the new work depicts a man and a woman with a complex past meeting again after decades: he has been involved with the murder of her father and her brother, though at the same time he has saved her from his accomplices.

Dramatically, there’s an enigmatic quality to the result, with the audience only gradually working out the character’s mutual backstory.

Eotvos’s bitty score draws on a wide range of modernist gestures without managing to maintain a clear thread through its own material, but the two central performances – Romain Bockler’s Pedro and Albane Carrere’s Nina – hold the attention in Robert Alfoldi’s spare production.

The playing of the large Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra, which fills the stalls at Hackney while the audience is on the upper levels, is grandly resonant and the evening’s finest single feature.

Adrienn Miksch and Karoly Szemeredy in Bluebeard’s Castle at Hackney Empire. Photo: Anett Kallay-Toth

They and conductor Eotvos are equally memorable in Bartok’s masterpiece, where Adrienn Miksch’s Judith confronts Balint Szabo’s Bluebeard with her unwelcome demands for him to reveal the secrets hidden behind his seven mysterious doors.

Once again, this is a penny-plain staging, with projections, apparitions and lighting effects providing what atmosphere a show designed for international touring can summon up. Though the opera is sung in the original Hungarian, actor Philippe Murgier presents the spoken prologue in French – presumably because the production began life in France.

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Designed to precede Bartok’s one-act masterpiece, Peter Eotvos’s new opera pales by comparison