Though this post is not really related to music, I thought the interpretation of the plot of Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin is quite interesting.
In The Reason of Things, A. C. Grayling wrote an essay on Decay. The gist of it is that, we are renewing everyday and decaying everyday. In renewing ourselves, we eat our surroundings. In decay, it is a natural process that turns us into part of our surroundings. Ageing occurs fastest in babies, and maturation is really the start of decline.
Towards the end of his essay, Grayling specifically mentioned the Miraculous Mandarin, which to him is a commentary on the philosophy of life and death. Before accomplishing what he desired (i.e. the girl), the Mandarin never dies (Grayling says 'like Rasputin...') despite poisoning stabbling etc and even started to glow green. All this while his only focus is on the girl. Only after getting the girl did he start to bleed and slowly die off.
So The Miraculous Mandarin is really a probe into the parallel existence of the contradicting states of living and dying? We live to die?
I think there are probably a few layers of meanings in this work. After all operas usually explore several themes within its plot. Could Bartok be inspired by some folklores from rural Hungary like his Bluebeard's Castle? Which ends in a really weird way (I think) that is probably meant to have some meaning as well.