Here was a double bill of operas that were literally made for each other. Péter Eötvös wrote his one act masterpiece Senza sangue in 2015 to act as a partner piece for Bartók's Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both operas are about a woman’s ambivalent fascination for a dangerous man. In the Eötvös the woman, Nina, has the opportunity to shoot the man who has shot her father in front of when she was a child, but instead beds him. In the Bartók, Judith leaves her family and a safe future to take up a life with man who everyone believes is a murderer. Desperate to find out all his secrets, she is eventually symbolically consumed by them.

Albane Carrère and Romain Bockler in <i>Senza sangue</i> © Anett Kállay-Tóth
Albane Carrère and Romain Bockler in Senza sangue
© Anett Kállay-Tóth

Senza sanque is a fascinating take on the claustrophobic nature of obsession. Nina, performed here by the glamorous Albane Carrère in a part written for Anne Sofie von Otter, is a restless soul of over sixty. Her nemesis, the 72-year-old man who shot her father but spared her life, was played by an equally youthful Romain Bockler. This incongruity in ages was initially disconcerting, but in the end, didn’t matter and even added an unreal quality to the piece. Both singers gave committed, nicely balanced performances, navigating the grateful vocal lines with ease. Directed with simplicity by Robert Alföldi in a plain elliptical set with two chairs and a table as the only props, the story unravelled with increasing tension and then dissolved into threatening forgiveness.

Underpinning all this emotion in both operas, are orchestral parts of quite extraordinary depth of colour and dramatic thrust. The Pannon Philharmonic from Pécs, conducted by Péter Eötvös, first performed this production earlier this year at the Armel Opera Festival. Pacing of both works was spot on and every detail of the Bartók was clearly presented and beautifully shaped. In Eötvös' opera, there were obvious references to Bartók, both thematically and in the orchestration, which drew the two operas even more into the same orbit. The acoustic in the Hackney Empire was surprisingly good, the large orchestra was placed in the stalls enabling the sound to project up through the grand open space of the auditorium.

Adrienn Miksch (Judith) and Bálint Szabó (Szabo) © Anett Kállay-Tóth
Adrienn Miksch (Judith) and Bálint Szabó (Szabo)
© Anett Kállay-Tóth

When it came to Bluebeard's Castle expectations were high. The opportunity to hear a Hungarian company perform the nation’s greatest operatic achievement, conducted by its greatest living composer is a rare one. With this performance in Hackney being the only one outside of Budapest, we were indeed privileged. And no one could be disappointed with any element of the performance. Again, the same simple set, lit from behind with images to illustrate the visions behind the doors and with a walkway for the ghostly former wives, worked efficiently, suggesting the horrors rather than being literal.

Adrienn Miksch was a near perfect Judith, with a large firm voice, she was able to register all her points despite the large orchestra at full volume in the centre of the theatre and unmuted by not being in a pit. The range of emotions both in her singing and her acting ability was impressive, building up to expressionist levels. Likewise, Bálint Szabó, as a baleful and human Bluebeard, was able to convey a frailty which subtly developed into full blown menace as each mysterious door was opened by the hapless Judith. This was a well matched and believable couple whose fate was very personal, but they were also able to project a universal lesson about trust, to anyone entering into a relationship, as surely Bartók intended.

Adrienn Miksch (Judith) and Bálint Szabó (Bluebeard) © Anett Kállay-Tóth
Adrienn Miksch (Judith) and Bálint Szabó (Bluebeard)
© Anett Kállay-Tóth

Bluebeard was brilliantly directed by Nadine Duffaut, whose detailed understanding of the dramatic flow both in the text and most importantly in the fabulously rich orchestral contribution, was admirably demonstrated here. A work that can fall flat on its face on the stage was instead proved triumphant here, with the drama given its full due in every department, making for a memorable and disturbing evening in Hackney.