We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, November 12, 2018


József Balog (photo by Attila Nagy)

Tatiana Melnik and Gergely LeBlanc
(photo by Attila Nagy)
It has been several years since we visited Budapest and now Budapest has visited us--in the person of the Hungarian State Opera and the Hungarian National Ballet! We would have liked to conduct an exit poll of the audience members leaving the New York State Theater.  How many were Hungarian expats?  How many came, like we did, to once again experience the outstanding contributions to the arts made by this European nation? And how many have never been to Hungary but are now tempted to visit?

The artistic programs we saw and heard were of the highest caliber. For culture vultures who love all the arts, perhaps the best experience would have been the Gala Concert which gave us a taste of everything. The evening was directed by András Almási-Tóth with conductors Gergely Kesselyák and Balázs Kocsár leading the world-class Hungarian State Opera Orchestra and Gábor Csiki as chorus director.  The program opened with "Himnusz", the national anthem of Hungary, Ferenc Erkel's setting of Ferenc Kölcsey's text, in the form of a prayer.

Erkel can be considered a national treasure and Hungary's greatest opera composer, especially famous for his patriotic operas of the nationalist movement of the 19th c.,  excerpts of which were performed along with excerpts of Bánk Bán which was seen in its entirety earlier in the week.

The lively drinking song was performed by Zoltán Kelemen and Bánk's tribute to his homeland was sung by Boldizsár László. We never imagined that such a difficult language with so many consonants would sound so beautiful! Erkel ensured that the vocal line and text were very much in sync.

We enjoyed Hans Van Manen's "Trois Gnossiennes", set to music by Erik Satie, with the exception of the flexed foot, so common in modern ballet.  For us, it ruins the gorgeous line of the long leg! András Lukács used some Philip Glass music for his  energetic "Whirling" and indeed the dances whirled around the stage with very high energy. This was an audience favorite.

Adolphe Adam's music dictates a much different kind of dancing and we loved the pas de trois from Le Corsaire depicted above, which was choreographed by Anna-Marie Holmes after Petipas. The part of the slave Ali is a stylish and bravura one and was excellently danced.

We wanted to make sure to include a photograph of the scene stealing space age piano played by József Balog. Mr. Balog is a brilliant pianist and played Franz Liszt's Hungarian Fantasy with brilliance. We have seen this piano before but never knew it was designed by a Hungarian.

Whilst he played what seemed to be a piano arrangement of Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets, there was an "acrobat" performing on silken ropes; we would prefer to call her a dancer/aerialist because of her unusual grace. She wrapped and unwrapped her limbs; she wound and unwound her body; she came crashing down toward the floor in moves that made the audience gasp.

The remainder of this generous program included charming selections from folk operas by Zoltán Kodaly and we were particularly delighted to hear more from mezzo-soprano Erika Gal who made such a captivating Queen of Sheba in Karl Goldmark's opera Die Königin von Saba two nights earlier.

The opera was sung in German and had the familiar plot of a man torn between a good girl and a bad girl. Think Don Jose caught between Micaëla and Carmen!  Think Tannhaüser caught between Elisabeth and Venus! Of course, the "bad girl" gets the best music and things always end tragically.

We liked Csaba Káel's direction and Éva Szendrényi's sets, particularly the starry background during the overture, which opened with a lovely erotic ballet. Tenor Boldizsár László handled the part of the mesmerized Assad with lovely tenor tone and soprano Eszter Sümegi made a good case for the abandoned bride Sulamith.

Bass Zoltán Kelemen sang the role of King Solomon with depth of tone and authority. But it was Ms. Gál whose performance impressed us the most both dramatically and vocally.  We do so love bad girls!

What we did not like were the costumes. They were downright ugly and the women of the chorus were dressed in a manner that suggested no particular period, definitely not the biblical look called for by the setting of the story set in King Solomon's temple. And what was meant by those huge clunky shoes? Poor Ms. Gál was given a Las Vegas look! EWWW!!!

Another quibble we had was with the choreography. We couldn't believe that the same choreographer (Marianna Venekei) who created the lovely opening duet could have choreographed the tasteless and meaningless ballet in the second act in which the dancers wore pastel dresses with identical short blond wigs and the male dancer was costumed like a dragonfly or something of that nature.

We were not going to let the costumes and dancing spoil such an otherwise wonderful opportunity to hear this rarely performed opera.

There were no such quibbles with the performance of Erkel's Bánk Bán which was superlative in every way. Directed by Attila Vidnyánszky, this story of the 13th c. is dear to the hearts of Hungarians. The conflicted nationalist hero was movingly sung by baritone Levente Molnár.

Before we run out of space we want to report on the excellence of the Hungarian National Ballet whose full length production of Don Quixote we saw last night. The choreography had originally been that of Petipa but, like many operas, has been successively modified by a string of choreographers. Until last night we had only seen the iteration by Baryshnikov for American Ballet Theater.  This version was finalized by Michael Messerer based upon the Bolshoi version.

Ludwig Minkus' music was somewhat rearranged, as were some of the set pieces. It worked well dramatically and there was no shortage of virtuoso dancing, leading the audience to erupt often in spontaneous applause. 

We were very impressed with the Kitri of Tatiana Melnik, especially charming in the castanet solo. In spite of all the dazzling virtuosity, there was a moment when she took a particularly slow developée and we held our breath. 

All the dancers had impressively grand extensions and that admirable Russian épaulement. As the barber Basil, Igor Tsvirko courted Kitri with huge leaps, admirable athleticism, and enviable musicality. Iurii Kekalo made an elegant Espada and Sofia Ivanova-Skoblikova charmed the audience with her style.

For comic relief we had Attila Szakács as Don Quixote who rode in on a horse, and Maksym Kovtun as his sidekick Sancho Panza who rode in on a donkey. We loved the scene in which Panza gets tossed around on a blanket by the villagers and Don Quixote has to rescue him.

Alekszandr Komarov made a funny foppish Gamache and Kitri's two friends were well danced by Lili Felméry and Rita Hangya. There was no credit in the program for the adorable petite dancer who had the part of Cupid in Don Quixote's dream.

We hope that this artistically successful visit will be repeated next year. We will welcome the Hungarians and their artistry with open arms, especially if they program Swan Lake which we sadly missed due to scheduling changes.

(c) meche kroop

No comments:

Post a Comment