A journal of turn-of-the-century theatre

Issue 1 - Summer 2010

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  “Where is the Stage?”: The Theatricality of Silence and Concealment in Béla Balázs’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” by Fiona Stewart

     In 1909, the young Hungarian writer, Béla Balázs, wrote a one-act play based on the classic Bluebeard folk-tale, A Kékszakállú herceg vára [Duke Bluebeard’s Castle].  The play was published in a Hungarian theatre journal in 1910, and then included with two other of his one-act plays in the volume Misztériumok [Mysteries], published by the literary journal, Nyugat [West], in 1912.  Upon the publication of this volume, fellow writer, Mihály Babits, praised Balázs’s work for representing a new direction in drama, within the context of a Hungarian theatrical culture dominated by Naturalist conventions.  In Babits’s assessment, Balázs’s drama “does not become drama through the appearance of dialogue or the external trappings of the stage, but through its inner form, which is one with its contents…  It is the drama of the soul, not of the ears, or of the eyes”1 (par. 4).   It is with this statement that the philosopher György Lukács, enters into the debate.  He challenges Babits on the possibility of creating such an “inner drama,” arguing that the dramatic form is, in fact, intrinsically connected to the material presence of the stage and the actors’ bodies.  In his neo-Kantian argument, it is only through the tangible that we can access the intangible, the eternal.  It is only because the modern stage has been degraded by “inauthentic” drama that a conceptual rift has appeared between the two domains and their functions.  As he asserts, “This contemporary distancing of the ‘theatrical work’ from drama, and in connection with this, the release of drama from the actual stage, is only a historical fact. [Balázs’s] dramas are true dramas, dramas for the stage” (par. 2).  In regards to “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”, Lukács’s statement certainly rings true.  A closer examination of the play, and his writings of that period, suggests that Balázs, too, recognizes the intrinsic connection between the material and symbolic aspects of the dramatic form.  Thus, he desires to control and manipulate the material aspects of his drama in such a way as to give the viewer access to the intangible.  His effective use of mechanisms of silence and concealment is designed to usher in the ‘Unknown’ in the gaps and fissures of the material. As he observes, “Pressed between two words is that which does not yet have a name” (Maeterlinck par. 2).


     “Where is the stage: is it outside or in?” (Balázs, Kékszakállú 6)  The bard poses this question in the prologue to Béla Balázs’s play.  With this, Balázs enters into a timely debate about the principles of theatrical form and the possible directions for modern theatre in the early twentieth century. Is the genre determined by the external trappings of a physical stage and actors’ bodies, or is it purely the unfolding of thematic and symbolic content within the mind of the viewer? Or can it be both? Can the visible elements of the stage be harnessed in such a way as to allude to the invisible? This pre-occupation positions Balázs’s play as much within the debates of his intellectual milieu, as within a Symbolist dramatic tradition aimed at reclaiming the space of the theatre from the mimetic rigour of Naturalism, unleashing its hermeneutic potential to signify something beyond its material presence.  At the same time, in negating the primacy of the spoken text and questioning the arbitrary divisions between the stage and the audience, he pre-figures later developments of Beckett or Brecht. In either case, Balázs points to an important feature of his own work.  As Lukács suggests, the unfolding of the drama is dependent upon a complex relationship between the material stage and the mind of the viewer.  In “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”, Balázs sets up an interplay between “seen” and “unseen,” between “material” and “symbolic,” and between “words” and “gestures.”  This conscious structuring of elements allows his work to be experienced by the viewer as simultaneously tangible/sensible and intangible/abstract.  While the dominant reading of the play focuses on the symbolic nature of Bluebeard’s castle, such a reading ignores the importance of the materiality of the castle in structuring the ways in which the play is experienced.  The play slips beyond simplistic explanations, alluding to the inexpressible and the indescribable, in the manner of Rilke or Hoffmansthal.   The drama is dependent upon the interplay between the tangible and the abstract, which gives rise to the play’s “theatricality.”  The exploration of this dualism affirms the intrinsic connection between the play and its staging and performance.

     To return to the bard’s question, then, the “stage” can be conceived of as both outside and inside.  In this sense, the “stage” is both the “real” physical space where the viewer can observe the action, as well as an interior space where the viewer grasps the intangible and abstract aspects of the drama.  This reading is confirmed by the oft-neglected prologue to the play.  In directly addressing the audience, the bard refers to the curtain of the “stage” as “the lashed curtain of our eyes” (6).  If our eyelashes are the “curtain,” then the “stage” is located either in the visible space in front of us, or in our own minds.  Yet, Balázs does not allow us to make this choice between “outside” or “inside,” continuing to problematize the division.  Three stanzas later the bard says, “The lashed curtain of my eyes is up. Applaud if it comes down” [my emphasis] (7).  The audience is once again externalized from the stage, a distancing that is further reinforced by the bard’s disappearance into the darkness of the stage, never to return again.  Who is looking at whom? Where does the drama take place? When does the play begin and end?  All of these questions are enigmatically raised, though not resolved.  This deliberate ambiguity acknowledges the dualism of the stage as both a material and symbolic presence.

     In his unpublished notes to a German staging of the play, Balázs, himself, alludes to this dual functioning of the stage in his drama: “I called my Bluebeard a ballad for the stage because the stage here occupies not only the necessary space for the unfolding of the dialogue. The stage itself takes part in the dialogue” (qtd. in Leafstedt 202).  Indeed, Balázs lists “the castle” as one of the dramatis personae, and, certainly, the title of the play suggests the primacy of “the castle” in the action.  The castle (the stage)2 “takes part in the dialogue” by simultaneously structuring and disrupting it.  The castle provides the spatial and temporal limits of the play, physically containing the action and determining the sequence of events.  At the same time, “the castle” interrupts the dialogue as much by its physical as by its symbolic presence.  What “the castle” reveals and what it conceals, what “the castle” is and what it alludes to, operate at the limits of the dialogue.  In Balázs’s play, so much more of the drama unfolds in its “theatricality,” the “theatre-beyond-text,” in Roland Barthes’ terminology.

     The notion of theatricality is useful here in pointing to the particular complexities of Balázs’s play and his achievements as a dramatist.  Though a thorough exploration of this often vague concept will not be attempted here, 3 it helps to underline the dual functioning of “the castle” as both a material and symbolic construction.  It is through Balázs’s manipulation of this duality that the text, itself, performs and becomes meaningful to the spectator.  Theatricality arises in the disjuncture between the “real” space of the stage and the “imaginary” world that it contains.  Moreover, meaning is produced by the interaction between the artist’s ability to manipulate extra-linguistic codes and the spectator’s participation in interpreting those codes.  In Josette Féral’s words, such theatricality,

…is the result of a definite will to transform things. It imposes a view on objects, events, and actions that is made up of several cleavages: everyday space/representational space; reality/fiction; symbolic/instinctive. These impose upon the spectator’s gaze a play of disjunction/unification, a friction between one level and another. In this permanent movement between meaning and its displacement, between the same and the different, alterity arises from the heart of sameness, and theatricality is born. (12)

This “permanent movement” marks “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” as “the castle” functions to generate meaning continually, thus becoming both the physical ground and the conceptual framework of the action, shifting between the externally visible and the internally tangible.  “The castle” is both/and.  This understanding of “the castle” implicitly challenges the dominant reading of the play that, in reducing “the castle” to a metaphor of Bluebeard’s “soul” or “psyche,” strips the play of its inherent power and theatricality.

     The suggestion that Bluebeard’s “castle” is Bluebeard’s “soul” is a reading that can be supported by Balázs, himself.  In those same unpublished notes, he states that “Bluebeard’s castle is not a realistic stone castle. The castle is his soul.  It is lonely, dark and secretive: the castle of locked door” (qtd. in Leafstedt 36).  This interpretation of the metaphoric function of the castle has proven to be compelling in its simplicity, providing a coherent approach to the text that draws on the context of a broader fin-de-siècle interest in the depths of the human psyche and the unconscious.  For the most part, analyses of Balázs’s play have been conducted with reference to its role as the libretto for Béla Bartók’s opera (Keszi, Veress, Leafstedt, Frigyesi).  Notable exceptions have been the Mihály Babits/György Lukács debate about the principles of dramatic form, Joseph Zsuffa’s biography of Balázs’s art and life, and, most recently, Nicholas Vázsonyi’s exploration of the play in light of Balázs’s later film theories. With the exception of Vázsonyi and Lukács, all of these scholars subscribe to a reading that interprets “the castle” as Bluebeard’s “psyche” into which Judith must penetrate to her own tragic demise.  Even in his careful study of the play and its relationship to the opera and its cultural context, Carl Leafsteadt asserts that, “Judith’s penetration into the castle, we realize, also represents the unfurling of Bluebeard’s soul before the firm but loving advances of his new wife. The doors, therefore, represent windows into his soul” (36).  The problem with this reading is not in the identification of “the castle” as a metaphor, but in the isolation of the hermeneutic structure of the text solely within the dialogue between Bluebeard, Judith and “the castle”.  The play becomes self-referential, the fear becomes particularized, the horror becomes externalized, and the viewer’s imagination is disengaged.  The viewer becomes a passive observer to the drama unfolding between these three “characters”.  In this closed interpretation, the same meaning could be derived from the play whether it was read or performed.  The play is relieved of the necessity of performance by a reading that ignores the crucial interaction between the audience and the castle as stage, and the importance of the ‘un-nameable’ to the action.  It is, perhaps, in light of this that Balázs qualifies his ‘explanatory notes’, saying, “All explanations are Roentgen pictures: they break up the shape, the form. Prefaces are all in vain. True poetry is: seduction!” (qtd. in Leafstedt 201)  Attempts to describe the intangible ultimately end in failure.

     Balázs was extremely interested in theatre, particularly in terms of the potentialities of material objects, bodies and gestures to create meaning beyond the limits of the spoken word.  In a three-part essay on the Belgian playwright, Maurice Maeterlinck, published in Nyugat in 1908, Balázs emphasizes the special ability of theatre to convey silence.  “It is my infinite jealousy,” he confesses, “that musicians do not have to speak, and my infinite love that in drama it is possible not to speak.  What I hear from the silence, however, I always hear as music” (Maeterlinck par. 2).  He goes further to suggest that in the written form, in the novel or in poetry, it is not possible to signal silence without the use of words, “but in drama silence can begin to speak” (par. 2). Here, it is clear that Balázs is intimately connecting “drama” with its performance, since it is only in performance that such silences can be conveyed.  Silence is created in the spaces between words, just as, in music, silence is created in the spaces between notes, and is particularly capable of signifying the intangible (the “Unknown”) in the tangible (the silence as experienced in the spaces). 

      While exploring Maeterlinck’s approach to drama, Balázs continues to employ the example of music, in order to express his own approach to theatricality. He speaks about the nature of overtones, which are produced when a particular combination of notes are brought together.  The existence of overtones, thus, is directly dependent upon the skill of the artist in constructing the elements, in order to produce the desired effect.  But equally, the apprehension of overtones is dependent upon the adequate functioning of the listener’s ear.  He suggests that Maeterlinck’s theatre is like hearing overtones where the original chord is absent.  Through the resonances and the nuances of the seemingly independent overtones, the absent chord, the “real” story, the underlying structure, is inferred.  The chord’s presence is felt in its absence, and silence speaks.  Silence emerges not only between overtones, but also in the underlying structure that is not made explicit. The drama unfolds in the relationship between presence and absence, between the “known” and the “unknown”, between the dialogue and its underlying structures, between the spoken word and the silence(d). By implication, the work is dependent upon both the ability of the dramatist to manipulate structural elements and the ability of the viewer to experience the “overtones” of the drama beyond the spoken dialogue.  It is in this network of relationships that theatricality emerges, reinforcing the intrinsic nature of stage and performance to the unfolding of the drama.  As Balázs states, “Only on the stage is it possible” (Maeterlinck par. 2).  

      In “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”, Balázs carefully constructs chords, which, in their absence, interrupt the dialogue as silence.  As the tension grows, silence increasingly encroaches upon the dialogue, as it shifts between Judith and Bluebeard.  A good example of how Balázs employs silence and spatial distancing in his text occurs when Judith opens the sixth door of the castle, revealing the lake of tears.  Here, Judith “slowly turns around and mutely stands face to face with Bluebeard.” (Kékszakállú 42)  Bluebeard outstretches his arms towards his wife and entreats her to come to him.  With each entreaty, Judith “doesn’t answer, doesn’t move” (42).  Bluebeard’s four lines are interrupted by Judith’s silence and immobility.  Both the silence and the static distance between them are apprehended by the viewer.  But this sensory experience also engages the imagination: What is Judith thinking? What are her motivations, desires, and fears?  Does her silence indicate her power or her subjugation?  In opting to convey the content of his drama through silence rather than through descriptive prose, he leaves the play open to ambiguity and multiple interpretations.  And this silence can only operate if it is experienced by the viewer in a way that is only possible in performance, where silent chords and overtones can resonate.

      Maeterlinck, too, was deeply aware of the necessity of performance to drama, but was also deeply skeptical about being able to enact a performance without the intervention of actors’ bodies marked by the everyday.  He felt that actors and sets could actually detract from the drama, highlighting the artificiality of the enterprise, instead of initiating an encounter with the imaginary.  Maeterlinck’s solution was not to isolate the text from the interpretive whims of the theatre, confining it to a reified written form.  Rather, he recognized that such a move would inevitably lead to the reduction of the drama to certain “readable” aspects.  Instead, Maeterlinck sought to maintain performance, but to find ways to exert more control over its variables.  As Patrick McGuinness explains,

The stage is where the author gives up control, where what Maeterlinck calls the ‘accidental’ takes over, and where the reader surrenders his imaginative and creative powers to the actor and director. The ‘coté matériel’, far from being unimportant, is in fact crucial. Maeterlinck and the Symbolists conceive of performance not as a slick and adequate transposition from one medium to another, from page to stage, but as a battleground where each component – written word, spoken word, gesture, lighting, and props – fights for a place in a hierarchy which is never a priori assured. (123-124) 

The detailed stage descriptions of “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” reveal a similar attempt by Balázs to control the “accidental”, the variables of performance, in order to allow the imaginative and creative potential of the drama to resonate.  It is clear that, for Balázs, the play must be performed.  How to create the desired overtones in a way that minimizes the intervention of “the everyday” becomes the challenge.  The specific transformations that Balázs makes, in relation to Maeterlinck’s rendering of the Bluebeard tale, reveal the manner in which he attempts to exert this control over the theatricality of the text.  For Balázs, these transformations minimize the impact of the dialogue, moving towards stylization and abstraction, initiating a more dynamic relationship between the stage and the viewer, while maintaining the ambiguity of the text.  In principle, Balázs does not challenge Maeterlinck theories of performance, but attempts to find more effective solutions for communicating the complexities of his drama.

     Maeterlinck wrote his Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (Ariadne and Bluebeard) in 1899.  Many scholars and critics have pointed to the influence of this play on Balázs’s version of the traditional Bluebeard tale, principally because in both versions Bluebeard’s new bride finds his former wives still alive. As Leafstedt rightly asserts, however, it is more in the theatrical principles of Maeterlinck’s earlier one-act plays that the Belgian exerts an influence on Balázs’s Bluebeard.  Though the presentation of these two Bluebeards differs drastically, Balázs nevertheless demonstrates a knowledge of Maeterlinck’s play, and a desire to reduce Maeterlinck’s version to its most basic structures.  By directly challenging and transforming some of the key features of Maeterlinck’s Bluebeard, Balázs emphasizes the communicative potential of concealment, along with that of silence and distance.  For Balázs, these features most effectively explore the dualism between the material and the abstract, engaging both the sensory and the imaginative interpretation of the viewer. 

      The first of Balázs’s transformations is revealed in his depiction of the main hall of Bluebeard’s castle.  In Maeterlinck’s play, the opening passage describes, “A vast, resplendent hall.” (95) For Balázs, however, this hall is, “empty, dark, frigid, resembling a cave.” (Kékszakállú 9)  Furthermore, when Judith asks, “Is there no window? – No balcony?” (14), Balázs sets up a direct contrast with Maeterlinck’s castle.  Maeterlinck’s castle ostensibly has six large windows and a grand balcony, whereas in Balázs’s, “There are none,” as Bluebeard replies, simply. (14)  The transformation of Bluebeard’s castle from a conventional symbol of wealth and power into a dark, desolate “cave” leads to two important outcomes.  In stripping Bluebeard’s castle of all decoration and splendor, the audience cannot be distracted by the set.  Indeed, the emotional struggle between Judith and Bluebeard begins as soon as the curtains part, highlighted by their appearance in the brilliantly lit frame of the exterior door, and the disparate pacing of their descents down the staircase.  The castle encourages this dialogue without interfering with it – provides the material ground for it, while creating the necessary atmosphere for it to resonate.  This atmosphere is also sustained by the lack of windows.  Not only does this physical feature increase the sense of claustrophobia and isolation, but it also creates the opportunity for the play of light and darkness to manifest itself as a crucial material/symbolic mechanism in the drama.

     The curtains open and close with the castle in total darkness.  Throughout the course of the play, light is physically admitted and taken away by the opening and closing of the doors, with the brightest point of the play being after the opening of the fifth door, revealing Bluebeard’s kingdom.  At this point, Bluebeard tells Judith, “It will no longer get any brighter” (38).  This overarching cycle that leads from darkness to the brightest point and back to darkness is achieved by Balázs’s skillful execution of staging and lighting principles.  The encroachment of darkness, and the penetration of light, engages the viewer similarly to the features of silence and distance.  Darkness and light prove to be tangible elements that carry symbolic weight, providing both a material structure and an abstract association for the drama.  In this way, Balázs meticulously constructs a stage (a castle) that conforms to both his material and symbolic ideals. 

      In light of these ideals, the doors become the primary mechanisms through which the drama unfolds.  The ability of light and darkness to both reveal and conceal is integrated into the function of the doors, while the doors, themselves, structure the “seen” and the “unseen”.  The power of doors to be both functional and symbolic is something that was equally recognized by Maeterlinck, and explored in his early plays.  As McGuinness argues, “[i]n Maeterlinck’s theatre, a door is analogous to a verbal utterance ‘referring to’ unseen spaces” (87).  Yet, in Maeterlinck’s ‘Bluebeard’, he does not use this ability to its greatest potential.  As Ariadne opens the forbidden doors of Bluebeard’s castle, the treasures that were once concealed spill out onto the stage.  The “unseen” instantly becomes “seen”, the audience’s imagination is disengaged and the tension dissipates.  While Balázs adopts Maeterlinck’s use of colour to differentiate the contents behind each door, he is more selective about what is revealed and what remains concealed.  When each door is opened, a shaft of coloured light is projected from behind the door.  This light, thus, affects the level of darkness on stage, and symbolizes something about the contents of that chamber by its colour.  At the same time, this light continues to conceal, either totally or partially, that which lies behind the door.  As a result, the viewer must rely on Judith’s descriptions, in order to imagine what she sees.  Judith is forced to mediate between the stage and the viewer, thus setting up a direct dialogue between the spoken word and the audience’s active imagination.

      This technique of concealment clearly operates under the assumption that the horrors that the audience can imagine will have far more impact than any horror replicated in the material realm of the stage.  This assumption points to one of the weaknesses of Balázs’s principles, in that he relies too heavily upon the ability of the audience to experience the play as he intends it, which would involve the active engagement of both their sensory and imaginative capacities.  Recalling his parallel between drama and music, hearing the overtones of the chord is dependent upon a capable and sensitive ear.  Experiencing the “overtones” of “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”, and imagining the contents of the absent chord (that which remains concealed or silent), requires a viewer who is able to interpret the material and symbolic layers emerging in the play’s theatricality.  Perhaps, the appearance of increasingly descriptive productions of the opera has been the result of an attempt to relieve the play of its dependency on its viewer.  I would argue, however, that any attempt to explain what Balázs left ambiguous, or to reveal what he left concealed, is done to the detriment of the play, and, so long as it continues to function solely as the libretto for the opera, to the detriment of Bartók’s music.    

     Discussing the first three productions of the opera at the Budapest Opera House (1918, 1936, 1948), Gustav Oláh confirms this suspicion as he criticizes the original production for relying “too much on the imagination of the audience” (6).  As a member of the production team of the subsequent stagings, Oláh describes his attempts to, “make the symbols even more intelligible and the persons more human.” (6)  Here, Oláh’s goals represent an approach that is directly opposed to Balázs’s intentions, which call for the necessary ambiguity of symbols and the de-personalization of the human figure.  In both these respects, the ‘imagination of the audience’ is, in fact, fundamental to the dramatic tension of the opera, in the carefully constructed interplay between the visible and the invisible, between the stage and the mind of the viewer.  In his review in Nyugat of the 1936 production, Imre Keszi confirmed the fact that these changes, indeed, detracted from the overall effect of the opera, noting, “The crescendo-diminuendo of the opening doors was lost amidst the excess of movement on the stage, the climbing on the stairs.” (par. 10)  The “more human” actors could not create and maintain the level of tension necessary for the drama to be effective/affective.   One of the tragic outcomes of this misunderstanding of Balázs’s intentions was to render visible the contents of the chambers, stripping Judith of her mediating role between the concealment of the stage and the viewer’s participation in imagining that which has been concealed.  Once the contents of the chambers are visible to the viewer, the stage becomes reified in its external position, reducing the involvement of the viewer and the theatricality of the text.

     This tendency to reveal and to describe that which Balázs left concealed or ambiguous has plagued productions of “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”.  Most recently, the much-lauded production of Robert LePage, though worthy in many respects, has succumbed to this descriptive tendency.  Robert LePage created his production for the Canadian Opera Company in 1993, and it continues to tour to rave reviews, as part of a double bill with Schoenberg’s Erwartung.  In some ways, LePage’s production represents a welcome return to Balázs’s directions, particularly in terms of recognizing the integral function of the lighting to the drama.  At the same time, some of the choices he makes serve to disengage the viewer’s imagination.  When the brides emerge from behind the seventh door, they appear as the ‘living dead’, covered in blood.  Here, LePage literalizes the “blood motif” that winds between the dialogue and Bartók’s score.  As Bluebeard kneels before his brides, and as Judith sings, “Oh, more beautiful than me, richer than me,” (Balázs, Kékszakállú 51) the visibility of blood does not conform to the logic of the play and its theatricality.  In Balázs’s conception, the blood remains unseen to the spectator, but is inserted into the complex of horrors described by Judith.  The viewer can only imagine the blood as seen through Judith’s eyes.  The viewer participates in her horror, which becomes all the greater because they cannot see it.  In addition, LePage constructs a giant picture-frame around the stage.  Though the frame changes colour as the drama progresses (a feature that Balázs would probably have approved of, given his convictions about the symbolic power of colour), it only serves to externalize the location of the stage, separating it from the audience and reifying the dynamic of looks.  The function of the bard’s prologue in problematizing these relationships is effectively negated.

     It is no wonder that, since the opera’s premiere in Budapest in 1918, Balázs’s libretto has been overlooked, or marginalized, within the context of Bartók’s opera.4   A failure to understand the complexities of Balázs’s play, and the intrinsic relationship between its material and symbolic aspects, can only reduce the impact of the text, allowing it to be overpowered by Bartók’s score.  Just as important cues are written into the music, in order to control the variables of interpretation, Balázs writes similar directions into his text.  Though not definitive, these directions are clues as to how one should approach the play, in respect to its interpretation and performance, if one desires to maximize its theatrical potential.  “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” is a play that is highly structured according to a deep understanding of theatricality.  In light of this analysis, one can hope for two developments in regards to the future treatment of Balázs’s play.  Firstly, simplistic interpretations of the play that focus exclusively on the symbolic connection between Bluebeard’s castle and his soul should be re-evaluated to account for a more dynamic set of relationships between the characters, the stage and the audience.  A more dynamic interpretation refuses to locate the drama solely within the terrain of Bluebeard’s individual weaknesses, and remains open to ambiguity.  In doing so, the chords of the play are discovered in a far deeper human drama, one in which the audience is forced to evaluate their own role.  Secondly, it is important to remember that Balázs conceived of the play as a work in and of itself, which is why it warrants an analysis based on its own structural and thematic components.  Indeed, its first performance, in 1913, was a purely stage version, with Bartók introducing selections from the score on the piano during intermission.5   Since this disastrous debut, the play has only been performed within its operatic context.  Perhaps, the evaluation of the play as a significant achievement in its own right might finally provide the impetus for its performance outside of this context – as a modern drama created for the stage, as Béla Balázs had originally intended it to be.

Works Cited

  • Babits, Mihály. “Dráma [Drama].” Nyugat 6.3 (1913): n.pag. Elektronikus Periodika Archivum és Adatbázis. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.
  • Balázs, Béla. “Maeterlinck.” Nyugat 1.8 (1908): n.pag. Elektronikus Periodika Archivum és Adatbázis. Web. 10 Nov. 2009.
  • Balázs, Béla. A Kékszakállú herceg vára [Duke Bluebeard’s Castle]. Budapest: Magyar Helikon Könyvkiadó, 1960.
  • Féral, Josette. “Foreward.” SubStance 31.2-3 (2002): 3-13.
  • Frigyesi, Judit. Béla Bartók and Turn-of-the-Century Budapest. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998.
  • Keszi, Imre. “Két Bartók bemutató [Two Bartók Premieres].” Nyugat 29.12 (1936): n.pag.
    Elektronikus Periodika Archivum és Adatbázis. Web. 20 Oct. 2009.
  • Kodály, Zoltán. “Bartók Béla első operája [Béla Bartók’s First Opera]”. Nyugat 11.11 (1918):
    n.pag. Elektronikus Periodika Archivum és Adatbázis. Web. 20 Oct. 2009.
  • Leafstedt, Carl S. Inside Bluebeard’s Castle: Music and Drama in Béla Bartók’s Opera. New
    York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Lukács, György. “Egypár szó a dráma formájáról Babits Mihálynak [A Couple of Words to
    Mihály Babits about the Dramatic Form].” Nyugat 6.4 (1913): n.pag. Elektronikus
    Periodika Archivum és Adatbázis. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.
  • Maeterlinck, Maurice. Sister Beatrice and Ardiane & Barbe Bleue. Trans. Bernard Miall.
    London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1904.
  • McGuinness, Patrick. Maurice Maeterlinck and The Making of Modern Theatre. New York:
    Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Oláh, Gustav. “Bartók and the Theatre”. Tempo 14 (Winter, 1949-50): 4-37.
  • Vázsonyi, Nicholas. “Bluebeard’s Castle: The Birth of Cinema from the Spirit of Opera”. The Hungarian Quarterly 178 (2005): 132-144.
  • Veress, Sándor. “Bluebeard’s Castle”. Tempo 13 (Autumn, 1949): 32-37.
  • Zsuffa, Joseph. Béla Balázs: The Man and the Artist. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987.


1 All translations from Hungarian to English are my own.  In translating the text of Balázs’s play, I have been more concerned with communicating the direct sense of the phrases than with attempting to convey the particularities of his poetic style.  Previous English translations, such as Christopher Hassall’s, have been focused on maintaining a poetic integrity in relation to the score.  Relieved of that necessity, one can restore some of the nuanced meaning to Balázs’s text.  All of the selections from Nyugat receive their first translations here.

2 This is Balázs’s own equation that he makes later in his notes for the German production.

3 See the double issue of the journal, SubStance #98/99 Vol. 31.2-3 (2002), which explores the concept of “theatricality,” its theoretical underpinnings, possible applications and conceptual limitations.

4 The composer, Zoltán Kodály, who was a friend of both Balázs and Bartók, has been one of the only people to praise the libretto as an achievement in its own right, one which was equal to that of the music.  Writing about the premiere, in Nyugat, he argued that Balázs deserved praise for bringing his talents as a writer to the medium of the opera.  Though Balázs’s libretto was rid of all operatic convention, its ability to create and maintain tension allowed the music and text to “strengthen each other as a twin rainbow” (par. 9).

5 In 1913, the leading literary journal, Nyugat (West), decided it wanted to sponsor a presentation of two of Balázs’s plays: A kékszakállú herceg vára (Duke Bluebeard’s Castle) and A Szent Szűz vére (The Blood of the Blessed Virgin). With very limited funding, Balázs cobbled together actors, lighting and scenery.  The actors were incompetent, the lights malfunctioned, and the scenery constantly threatened to collapse.  “The only reason there was no scandal,” wrote Balázs, “was that the public did not understand what was happening anyway.” (qtd.  in Zsuffa 45-6)