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Art Inspired By Dark Opera ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’

Art Inspired By Dark Opera ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’

An exhibition by Nigel Buxton Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu 8 August – 19 October, 2003

Inspired by the dark and sumptuous opera of the same name, ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ is an ethereal and dramatic new exhibition by Christchurch artist Nigel Buxton scheduled to open in early August at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Bartok’s opera was conceived in very visual terms. Colour, light and shadow define the drama. Buxton’s painted scores – in lush, viscous oils – use the music itself as subject, and colour and darkness provide a dramatic aspect to the works.

Composed in 1911, and first performed in 1918, Bluebeard's Castle was Bela Bartok's only operatic masterpiece, a musical retelling of Charles Perrault’s macabre 17th century fairytale. In the operatic version as realised by Bartok and Hungarian poet Bela Balazs, Duke Bluebeard has brought his new wife Judith to his gloomy windowless castle where she finds seven great locked doors. The castle represents Bluebeard’s soul, and the seven doors each represent an aspect of his character, his past and his inner life. Wanting to know everything about her new husband in order to love him completely, Judith demands access to the locked doors. Bluebeard reluctantly gives her the keys and, chamber by chamber, his grim secrets are laid open. Judith learns more than she can bear.

Buxton’s paintings invite the viewer to see what Judith sees through the Opera’s seven doors. He says, “My interpretation is through her eyes, it’s her response that we’re responding to. The colours are very close to those stipulated throughout the stage instructions [of the opera] and emulate the emotions I want to impart to the viewer.”

A catalogue of the exhibition is available from the Gallery Shop for $4.50.

About the Artist Trained at the Camberwell and Byam Shaw Schools of Art in London, Buxton has been practicing art in New Zealand for 20 years. Director of the CSA Gallery (now the Centre of Contemporary Art) from 1993 to 1997, Buxton was awarded first prize in the Cranleigh Barton Drawing Award in 1995. He was a finalist in the Wallace Art Award in the same year. Buxton’s interest in music is a recurring motif in his art. Previously he has used the musical scores of operas as the starting point for imaginative works which deal with the composer’s dramatic themes.

About the Gallery Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu opened on Saturday, 10 May 2003. Replacing the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, the Gallery is the largest art institution in the South Island and houses one of New Zealand’s foremost public art collections with over 5,500 items, including paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, glass, metalwork and photography.


Bluebeard’s Castle until 19 October, 2003; Te Puäwai o Ngäi Tahu until 24 August, 2003; W.A. Sutton: A Retrospective until 28 September, 2003; Refugees until 19 October, 2003; Antarctic Heart until 2 November, 2003.

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