4. Blue Beard; or Female Curiosity (1798)
Music by Michael Kelly, text by George Colman, the Younger.
Michael Kelly, The Grand Dramatic Romance of Blue Beard, or, Female Curiosity, (London, Edinburgh: Printed for Corri, Dussek, & Co., ). RCM Library, H225/5
Blue Beard was described as a ‘Grand Dramatick Romance’, and was written with the specific design as an alternative for a Christmas pantomime, for children in the audience. Scenic spectacles and rapid transitions, brought about by Harlequin’s magic wand were the stock-in-trade of pantomime, and they brought good box-office returns. Michael Kelly had seen Grétry’s opera Barbe Bleue, based on Perrault’s fairy tale, in Paris in 1790. He paid Colman to make a libretto out of it, and Colman turned the French villain into a Turkish one, Abomelique. Reviews of Blue Beard were very mixed, but the work was popular with audiences. £2000 was spent on its preparation. Its most impressive effect was a grand cavalcade across the mountains, which used model figures and animals growing larger at each successive appearance. At a revival of Blue Beard at Covent Garden in 1811, 16 white performing horses were used, to ‘thunders of applause’.
Playbill for a performance of Blue Beard on 9 December 1816, Theatre Royal Covent Garden. Centre for Performance History