Christopher Purves makes bluebeard debut for Opera North


Bass-baritone Christopher Purves will make his role debut in Opera North’s new concert performance of Bartók’s gothic opera Bluebeard’s Castle at Huddersfield Town Hall on 28 November, opposite Kathleen Ferrier Award-winning mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill as Bluebeard’s bride Judith. A further performance takes place at Leeds Town Hall on 30 November.

Sian Edwards returns to the podium following her triumphant Opera North debut conducting Janáček’s Katya Kabanova earlier this year. The programme opens with the Czech composer’s blazing late Sinfonietta.

Dark currents of symbolism and romanticism run through Bartók’s 1918 one-act opera, based on a fairy tale whose roots can be traced back to the middle ages and beyond. Leaving behind her family home with its rambling roses and dancing sunlight, Bluebeard’s new wife embarks on a quest to discover the terrible secrets behind each of the seven doors in her husband’s twilit, blood-drenched castle, hoping to let the light in and make the ‘weeping flagstones… glitter bright as gold’.

Purves is no stranger to the dark side, having brought his extraordinary voice and formidable dramatic skills to bear on virtually all of opera’s most dastardly bass-baritone villains. He has even been responsible for Karen Cargill’s downfall before, as Méphistophélès to her Marguerite in Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, but Bluebeard has remained an empty niche in his crowded rogues’ gallery – until now.

Christopher Purves comments:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the baddest of them all?

 “It has to be said I have done most of the baddies: Méphistophélès, Scarpia, Nick Shadow, the Protector in Written on Skin… the list goes on. But Bluebeard adds a psychological aspect that the other nasty roles don’t quite achieve, and all enveloped in the weirdness of Bartók’s sumptuously bleak score. There’s more than a hint of Bates Motel about this drama. I can’t wait to get started!”

Universally praised for her 2017 role debut as Judith for Scottish Opera, Karen Cargill insists on the timelessness of the opera’s themes and the complexity of both of its characters. “Human frailties and the way they can influence our relationships with others is an endlessly fascinating subject”, says the Scottish mezzo-soprano. “For me this piece is a direct look into a deeply loving relationship, between two people whose insecurities are very close to the surface.

“Do I think that Bluebeard is evil? No. I think out of his complete obsession with Judith he falls prey to the worst game of Russian roulette. And they both lose.

“Bartók weaves an incredible patchwork quilt of sound to describe this complicated conversation, mysterious, loving, angry and sometimes threatening. It’s a masterpiece.”

Sung in the original Hungarian, with the Orchestra of Opera North on stage behind the singers, the two performances promise to bring into focus every nuance of Bartók’s “complicated conversation” in words and music.

“In this opera the orchestra has a huge role, so our concert performances will allow the wonderful sound of the Orchestra of Opera North its full range of colour and, where needed, tremendous force”, says Sian Edwards.

Inspired by a military band that Janáček overheard performing in a park, his Sinfonietta embodies the more optimistic tendencies of the early 20th century in the first half of the concert. Like Bluebeard it calls on large orchestral forces but, says Edwards, “while Bartók explores the internal and subconscious world of its characters – even the walls of Bluebeard’s Castle shudder – Janáček’s Sinfonietta wears its heart on its sleeve.

“The first and last movements are the most exuberant and impassioned salute to the new and much-longed-for Czech Republic, the second and fourth movements harness the rhythmic vitality of folk dance in Janáček’s unique way, while the central movement is surely one of his most intimate and beautiful.”

For more details and to book tickets for the performances in Huddersfield and Leeds, visit