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Eros and Thanatos make a stop on their eternal journey, and a battle of love and death ensues.
Both the gentle Fleurette and the brazen Boulotte have eyes for the dashing shepherd Daphnis. Boulotte wins Popolani’s lottery of virtue, and is presented to Knight Bluebeard to be his bride. Count Oscar declares Fleurette to be the long-lost daughter of King Bobèche, and she is taken to the castle … Knight Bluebeard catches a brief glimpse of her, but after lamenting over his five deceased wives, he quite likes the look of Boulotte, puts a ring on her finger and gets everyone excited about the marriage, and they all go galloping off into the wedding night.
In the castle, King Bobèche orders Count Oscar to kill one of the unfaithful Queen’s lovers for the fifth time. He wants to marry off his rediscovered daughter Hermia to Prince Saphir. Hermia (formerly Fleurette) refuses, but imagine her surprise when she sees that the prince is in fact her beloved shepherd Daphnis! Knight Bluebeard presents his sixth wife to the court, but he only has eyes for Princess Hermia, and decides to have Boulotte killed that very evening. Instead of following the royal ritual of kissing the King’s hand, Boulotte causes a scandal with her exuberance.
In the crypt of Blubeard’s dead wives, the Knight informs Boulotte of her impending demise. Popolani cunningly administers her with poison; she perishes; Bluebeard slips off her wedding ring, and hurries
off gleefully toward the castle.
However Popolani uses a machine to give all the wives a second life, allowing Boulotte to meet the other spouses. The alchemist unleashes the pent up power of these women scorned, and they all set off to exact revenge on Bluebeard.
The Knight interrupts the courtly nuptials and demands to have the Princess as his bride, threatening to unleash the full force of his arsenal. Saphir succumbs to his rival in a duel.
Popolani and Count Oscar confess to one another that they have killed neither the wives nor the lovers, as their rulers had requested, and concoct a revenge plot, which the resurrected Saphir gladly joins in on. The supposed dead come disguised as gypsies, and Boulotte exposes both Bobèche and Bluebeard – the masks of the men and women fall; marriage seems to be the only solution. But was it love or death
that came out on top?
King Bobèche is desperately searching for his daughter Hermia, whom he abandoned as a child. Bluebeard is also in need of a woman: already tired of wife number five, he sends his alchemist henchman Popolani to search for a worthy successor, something which Popolani seems to achieve in the person of the tough and feisty Boulotte.
Stefan Herheim, the Norwegian wizard of the theatre, presents Offenbach’s famous opéra bouffe as an amusing interplay of love and death, horror and comedy, artistic dream and waking reality, masculine mania and feminine lust.
The Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard) of this fairytale can be etymologically traced to the old French word Barbeu (werewolf), who might in turn reveal himself as a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The success of Bluebeard in decadent Paris during the dawning of the second imperial era is rooted in precisely this interplay between horror and comedy – one laughs at one’s own inadequacy as if one had already internalised Karl Kraus’ dictum: »Love and art do not embrace what is beautiful but what is made beautiful by this embrace.«
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Textual adaptation and musical arrangement by Stefan Herheim, Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach and Clemens Flick