Hungarian State Opera New York Tour 2018 Review: Gala

By Logan Martell

On November 4, 2018, the Hungarian State Opera’s tour featured a gala celebrating the music and dance of their homeland. I was surprised to learn that the date chosen for this celebration marks the 68th year since the Soviet intervention of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, wherein a large number of Hungarians gave their lives for their country against the Soviet forces. This intervention is cited as the impetus for a large wave of Hungarian immigration to the United States, bringing their hopes, dreams, and talents with them.

In the words of Andras Almasi-Toth, artistic director of the Hungarian State Opera, “With more than a thousand years of history, of miracles and setbacks, and of occupations and – frequently – short years of freedom, Hungary has always gained new strength after the frigid periods and gone on to flourish like a forest after the thaw. Hungary is a country of four seasons, with a story that can be described as a cycle of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, where summer often turned to autumn, but winter has always been followed by spring. Hungarian music contains renewal and loss, joy and pain, the fiery rhythm of freedom and the melancholy of slavery, all coexisting side by side: its rhythm simultaneously gallops toward the future and waves farewell to hope.

“Thousands of Hungarians arrived in New York after World War II and the 1956 revolution to start a new life in the United States. Throughout the years of the Cold War, the communist party spared no effort to sever every tie connecting Hungarian-Americans with their mother country. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, a new generation has discovered their ancestral homeland for themselves. And since then, their own grandchildren have been able to look homeward too. Our gala program evokes something from the Hungary of their parents and grandparents.”

Starting with National Spirit

First on the program was, fittingly, the “Himnusz,” which is the national anthem of Hungary. Composer Ferenc Erkel set the text of Ferenc Kolcsey’s poem to music in 1844, and since then, the “Himnusz” has been used a unifying prayer that gives honor unto God for the county’s blessings, as well as pray for deliverance from their tribulations. Following this, revered Hungarian soprano Eva Marton, who is also chief patron of the company, took to the stage to deliver a thoughtful reflection on her storied career and the experiences she has gained during her time performing in America.

While he could not be in attendance, legendary tenor Placido Domingo recorded a video which was shown before the audience, detailing his long friendship with Eva Marton, whom he refers to as a “great honor to the Hungarian nation.”

First of the operatic numbers was the overture to Ferenc Erkel’s work “Hunyadi Laszlo.” This number featured plaintive horns, and pizzicato from the string section which was soon picked up by a rising orchestral tide. The fast rhythm of the concluding section was driven by the flute and drum, instruments well-known for their use in settings of war. After a brief series of exchanges between the triangle and the string pizzicato, the overture finished with a display of majestic power.

Also from this opera was “The La Grange’s aria,” performed by soprano Osolya Hajnalka Roser. Standing before a projection of black and white wartime footage of rolling tanks and battered homes, Roser’s aria detailed the anguish of a woman separated from her children. One of her phrases “There is no solace for the pain, only in heaven!” was ended with sonorous, extended ornamentations before the lyrics repeated. In the subsequent stanzas, Roser displayed tremendous vocal power and agility, running up and down the limits of her voice, and easily delivering ethereal tones from her whistle register.

Third from “Hunyadi Laszlo” was the Act one finale, “The intriguer is dead.” Tenor Istvan Horvath sang of a loving forgiveness towards his people, expressing the belief that his death was not far off. As Horvath resolutely navigated through the lyrics, he was joined onstage by a male chorus as the orchestra shifted a more majestic feeling. Together, Horvath and the chorus exalted in the phrase “Nation and king are together again,” with the chorus proudly declaring “long live Laszlo!”

From Ferenc Enkel’s opera “Bánk Bán,” first came the drinking song, simply referred to as “Petur’s aria.” After a few brief measures from the pounding drum, given metallic accent from the striking of a triangle, baritone Zoltan Kelemen soon launched into the lyrics, advocating the hardships of life and the enjoyment to be found in drunkenness and other fleeting pleasures. The male chorus soon takes up his cry before the ritornello of the drum and triangle brought them back to the opening of the number, this time finishing with an assertive power that ended it on a bold, matter-of-fact note.

Last from “Bank Ban” was Bank’s aria “My homeland, my homeland.” This powerful number was performed by tenor Boldizsar Laszlo. His pained high notes spoke volumes of the importance he placed in home and in his honor. As the orchestra eased into a more andante setting, the members of the male and female chorus began to kneel one by one in reverence which was lent a heavenly delicacy by the harp.

Following a breathtaking piano and dance number featuring aerial silks, a video was shown which paid tribute to the Hungarian composers and conductors who immigrated to America and came to settle in different regions all throughout the country. Among those honored were Antal Dorati, Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Reiner, Geroge Szell, Ferenc Fricsay, Sir Georg Solti, Artur Nikisch, Hans Richter, Istven Kertesz, and Ernst von Dohnanyi.

A Stunning Finale

Bringing the evening to its conclusion was the song “Under the mountains of Csitar,” composed by Zoltan Kodaly for his collection titled “The Spinning Room.” While Kodaly’s intent was a compilation of Hungarian folk music, his commission from the Hungarian Royal Opera House soon turned the project into a full-fledged opera. The soloists onstage were soon joined by the chorus, dancers, and all other artists who had performed earlier. This unified number made for a fitting representation of the company’s loving bond with their homeland.

Time has shown that while recent decades may have brought suffering and hardship to the Hungarian people, their faith, and their passion for the arts have become a tremendous force for healing and pressing forward. In the words of the Hungarian cultural representative who gave one of the opening remarks, over the last few days during the company’s tour, “we have met you [the audience], and touched your hearts; and that was our intent.”


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