Hungarian composer Béla Bartók does not shy away from controversy. As part of the 100th anniversary season of the SF Symphony, we heard the Miraculous Mandarin played in December by the visiting BSO, which tells the story of a priapic Chinese man who can't be killed by a prostitute's accomplices unless she gives him a happy ending first.
Then this week, MTT and the SF Symphony will present Bartók's short opera Bluebeard's Castle in a staged version with a set and video projections by multimedia artist Nick Hillel. Bluebeard reinvents the old tale by Charles Perrault where a young bride finds out her husband is a serial killer who hides in his castle's basement the corpses of his previous wives. Grimy.
Perrault's morality is that curiosity only brings regrets, she shouldn't have gone snooping in the hidden chamber. Bartók takes on a different tack, at least in the version you'll see this week. British video artist and film maker Nick Hillel views the story as a metaphorical exploration of the relationship between Judith (the wife, sung by Michelle DeYoung) and Bluebeard (sung by Alan Held). Nick is the creator of Yeast Culture, a digital media boutique outfit that has done VJing and projections for Brian Eno and the Beastie Boys. Nick's first forays into classical music came from collaborations with the Philharmonia Orchestra and its musical director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, first with RE-RITE based upon Stravinksy's Rite of Spring, and then with the production of Bluebeard that the Philharmonia took on a European tour before MTT borrowed it, first with his New World Symphony in Miami in April, and now here. We called Nick to his house in London to discuss the production.