Performing arts

Bluebeard: a sinister fairy tale

An old, blood-curdling story, told in a mix of opera, rock, modern dance and hip-hop: Holland Opera and DOX have joined forces to create this version of Bluebeard. They’re performing their contemporary adaptation in the Werkspoorkathedraal.

Charles Perrault was responsible for the first version of Bluebeard in 1697. A filthy rich, utterly repulsive man with a blue sheen to his beard went away on business, leaving the keys to his castle with his young wife. She was allowed to look in every room, except one. When curiosity got the better of her, she opened the door, only to discover the bodies of the six wives who had preceded her.

As the years and versions went by, the Bluebeard character steadily became more attractive. No more so than in this latest version by Holland Opera. ‘In our version, he’s a rock star with his own band, dancers and backing singers,’ explains Joke Hoolboom, director and writer of the libretto. ‘The production opens with a pop concert.’ This is closely followed by some nifty technical wizardry with the scenery, which smoothly places the audience backstage. ‘I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but these spectacular effects can only be achieved in a mega-venue like the Werkspoorkathedraal.’

Heavy metal

The role of the irresistible, but dangerous Bluebeard is played by Niek Idelenburg from Holland Opera. The preparations were intense, he explains. ‘I had to get fit, like a sportsman preparing for a competition. The type of music and use of vocals aren’t what I’m used to, so that was quite difficult. There’s a sort of heavy metal “howl” at the beginning, and I have to be careful not to lose my voice right away. So I did some exercises and sang the entire performance at least once a day.’

The music, composed by Chiel Meijering, is a mix of pop, rock and classical, says Niek. ‘Think rock number, but played by a string orchestra. Or with twelve chords instead of three. Many scenes only feature music, full of tense, sinister sounds, but with a few lighter moments too. It’s rather like a film score, with lots of variation.’

Dead brides

One of the backing dancers in Bluebeard’s band, Judith, becomes his latest wife. The DOX dancers portray the murdered brides who, accompanied by a choir, convey the voices in Judith’s head. ‘The hip-hop and modern dance style of DOX is a totally different genre from ours, and that’s what makes this so compelling,’ says Niek. ‘We’ve worked together before and that was a success. There are no hard beats in opera music, but it does have rhythm. And if you use movement, you can tell a different story than by using words or music.’

‘The story is about boundaries, secrets, privacy,’ adds Joke. ‘And about the question: is it okay to have secrets within a relationship? It’s good reflection of current society, in which we share almost everything, on social media for example.’ Niek: ‘I hope that people will be able to relate to both characters. Trying to portray the different sides of Bluebeard was an exciting challenge. I wanted people to see not only the creep, but also the man looking for love.’

The production is sung in English, with Dutch surtitles. You can also attend an introduction and a special themed dinner, provided on location by De Maaltuin

21 August to 7 September, Werkspoorkathedraal. For more info see and

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