It's all about the doors.
If you know the story of “Bluebeard's Castle,” an early 20th century masterpiece by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, you know that Bluebeard brings his new wife, Judith, into a dark castle, where she finds seven locked doors.
She insists that they be opened.
Behind them are the secrets of Bluebeard's soul, his psyche, which he does not want to reveal.
Opera Omaha will stage a newly designed production of “Bluebeard's Castle” Friday night and Sunday afternoon at the Orpheum Theater, starring Samuel Ramey as Bluebeard and Kara Shay Thomson as Judith.
The show's dynamic young director and designer created a set made out of more than 160 doors, salvaged and repurposed into walls 24 feet high that surround the singers.
“We start at the core of the story,” said set and costume designer Julia Noulin-Mťrat of New York City about finding a design concept. “This is about trying to understand the world of dreams and psychology.”
Stage director Andrew Eggert, also based in New York, said the design had to accommodate the 63-piece orchestra, which is too large to fit into the Orpheum's orchestra pit, and create good acoustics.
An elevated walkway with multiple levels and stairs encircles the upstage area where the orchestra is seated, allowing instruments and voices to blend at close range. The walls made of doors are angled to direct the sound of both singers and orchestra outward.
Noulin-Mťrat wanted doors with texture and character, in a variety of shapes and sizes not typical of modern doors. She also wanted a feeling of heaviness, matching the tone of the music. And she wanted a patchwork, not even rows, to add to the complex sense of a mental labyrinth, or the dizziness of a maze, an unknown interior.
The weight of all those doors meant constructing a steel frame on which to hang them.
Finding the doors meant searching in places like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore on Leavenworth Street and A-1 salvage near 25th and Harrison Streets. More doors were purchased in St. Paul, Minn., where the set was constructed.
Dramatic lighting effects and video projections, plus the use of ballet dancers at one point and actor Nils Haaland to introduce the piece, make this a multimedia, multi-art-form performance that even repurposes the orchestra pit as a lake of tears.
“We wanted a visual vocabulary that would do justice to Bartok's music, which is so expressive,” Eggert said.
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