Premiered in 1907, Dukas’s opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (after a Maeterlinck tale) caused much engergetic and heated discussion in the salons of Paris. The suffragette movement was in its infancy, and the oppression of women and the rampant inequality of the sexes - themes highlighted in the opera - were risky subjects for public discussion at the time. Ariane’s magnanimous decision to let Blue Beard live at the end of the work and her refusal to obey him, was perceived as a demand for more femininity in politics. Her fight for freedom was seen as a cry for more rights for women.The treatment of the story, and the rise of National Socialism in the 1930s (Dukas was of Jewish extraction) saw to it that the work remained outside the operatic repertoire. It has however never lacked champions. Fellow composers Szymanowski, Busoni, Schoenberg, Berg and Webern were admirers.
Dukas’s score is a wonderful blend of Wagner, Richard Strauss, and impressionism. The spirit of Berlioz is also evoked in places – one can understand Bruno Walter’s admiration for the work, and his view that it ranks alongside Pelléas and Melisande as one of the great French operas.
- ‘The soundworld of Paul Dukas's only opera, a seductive mixture of Straussian opulence and French transparency, makes any performance of Ariane et Barbe-Bleue compelling, even before the teasing symbolism of Maurice Maeterlinck's libretto weaves its own spell. It is one of the great undervalued operas of the early 20th century, a proto-feminist take on the Bluebeard myth, in which Mélisande is also retrospectively revealed (after Maeterlinck's stage play and Debussy's opera based on it) as one of the serial murderer's former wives’ The Guardian 2008.
- ‘Bertrand de Billy is a strong advocate for the work in this live recording from a concert performance in the Vienna Konzerthaus. The sound is vivid enough and chorus