In 1911 Bartók wrote his only operaDuke Bluebeard’s Castle, an allegorical treatment of the legendary wife murderer with a score permeated by characteristics of traditional Hungarian folk songs, especially in the speechlike rhythms of the text setting.

The technique is comparable to that used by the French composer Claude Debussy in his opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1902), and Bartók’s opera has other impressionistic qualities as well. A balletThe Wooden Prince (1914–16), and a pantomimeThe Miraculous Mandarin (1918–19), followed; thereafter he wrote no more for the stage.

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