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László Vidovszky: Narcissus and EchoLászló Vidovszky: Narcissus and EchoOn the 19th of June we saw two one-act operas at the Grand Theatre of Miskolc. László Dubrovay’s Váltságdíj (Ransom) and László Vidovszky’s Narcissus and Echo were advertised together and entitled ’Men in the crosshairs’, which joint motto may sound a bit artificial – we are talking about two very different works – but it is true, that both have ’men victims’. It was a guest performance of the Budapest Operetta Theatre, for the company of which it was not the first time to perform these two operas. The pieces have been on at the Studio Stage of the Operetta Theatre since April. The stage-director is Szilárd Somogyi.

László Dubrovay’s comic opera Ransom was premiered in April, but – because of the small stage, as I know – only with piano accompaniment. In Miskolc it was already performed with orchestra, so in that respect this performance can be regarded as a first performance. The clever libretto was written by poet Ferenc Baranyi.

The story of Ransom takes place somewhere in a distant, maybe South-American, militant-like banana republic. The ’Boss’ (that is how he is called, but he is the president of the country, in fact) is kidnapped by terrorist women, who ask for ransom. The kidnappers are members of the Association of the Sexually Unsatisfied Women and Girls. They have been yearning for the Boss for a long time, who has been presented to the public by the marketing machinary as the ideal man. However, the amount of money they are asking for is ridicuously small, because the Boss has failed in bed, and has not met the expectations as a man. Thus the disapponted leader of the Association sticks to reimburse them only for the ’kidnapping costs’. Hearing the 50 dollars amount the ministers and the secretary of the Boss – who form a crisis management – despair. After all, it is really a derogatory thing, what is more, a shame, that such a small amount is demanded for their beloved commander, so they try to raise the ransom higher. Millions of dollars are pronounced, changing from one minute to the next, without a cover, anyway, but anything can be arranged. For example, there is no need for so many schools, as it is suggested by one of them.

László Dubrovay: RansomLászló Dubrovay: RansomAt the beginning the leader of the terrorists sticks to asking for 500 dollars and no more. But the silly secretary of the Boss sympathizes with her women fellow and whispers to her on the phone to accept the millions, make a foundation, from which a permanent company of men can be financed for the ladies in the future.

As the composer told us in a press conference this Spring, he wrote the piece as early as 1992, but being a politically sensitive issue – the story is focused on a prime minister, who is a jack-pudding – no one wanted to direct it. Thus the prime minister became a ’Boss’, which, in my opinion, was an unnecessary change, but I understand the composer, who can only present his work this way.

László Dubrovay studied with Stockhausen, and also composed electronic and ’computer’ works. However, Ransom is a popular work of an easier nature, which could be drawn from the reaction of the audience of Miskolc, too.

It is really a comic opera, we do not have to look for any deeper meaning behind the story. At the same time it can be regarded as a political satire, too. (And there are less happy scenes, like the one, where the Boss tells his captor, that his strong desire to make a career, and the stress following from that destroyed him, and that is why he is not a man anymore.)

The story of Ransom takes place in two different locations, in the room of the ’crisis management’ and in the hiding place of the terrorist amazons. The former is an ’information super centre’. It is like being in the interior of a computer (set and costume: Erzsébet Túri), in the background there are monitors broadcasting the news of the world; the Boss’ staff knows about everything, and keeps an eye on everything. On the other hand, the fortress of the Association is an empty room, where they keep the Boss tied up. The characters are uproarious and deliberatley caricatured.

László Dubrovay: RansomLászló Dubrovay: RansomThe orchestration is colourful, the music is coruscating, and its dissonant elements are in contrast with the simpler – in the case of the ministers and the secretary often very banal - melodies of the singers. However, the soloists could not always sing over the forte sounds of the brass winds, so the words were often unintelligible (maybe the use of subtitles would have been useful here, as well).

The most demanding part was given to the leader of the terrorist women, sung confidently by Tünde Frankó, whose performance was powerful and suggestive.

The part of the silly secretary was also sung impressively by Ágnes Molnár. The quartet of the Boss’ confidantes, Máté Szécsi, Dániel Kelemen, István Kristóf and Zsolt Homonnay also turned out to be good choices, while Gábor Dániel in the role of the Boss himself proved to have good acting skills, too.

*

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast after the performance of Ransom, than László Vidovszky’s opera Narcissus and Echo in the second half of the evening. I think, it was the most bizarre opera performance I have ever seen, but I am glad that I could get acquainted with this very exciting piece.

Narcissus and Echo was premiered in 1981, and it is regarded as the first ’postmodern Hungarian opera’. (Anyway, the first part of the composer’s career was related to experimental music and the New Music Studio representing it.)

The librettist is Dániel Varró, who obviously wrote a new libretto (as a young man, he could not write it in 1981). 

László Vidovszky: Narcissus and EchoLászló Vidovszky: Narcissus and EchoNarcissus and Echo has already been performed in different directions, although very rarely. The opera is an adaptation of the well-known story from the Greek mythology, but it is completely twisted. In the original story (although it also has several versions) Echo, the cursed nymph falls in love with the young Narcissus, who is in love with himself and refuses her. The nymph takes revenge, and the boy drowns in the river, while watching his own face in it. In another version Nemesis, the god of revenge punishes the beautiful Narcissus by making him fall in love with himself, while seeing his own reflection in the river, and – as his desire is unattainable – he kills himself.

The opera we saw now gives a new interpretation. Narcissus does refuse Echo, but here she is a dirty nymph, and the boy has a deep aversion to her. He is looking for true love, not only fleshliness. However, he remains alone in this surreal, debauched world, and that is why he begins to love himself.

It looked as though a painting of Hieronymus Bosch came alive on the stage (set and costume: Erzsébet Túri again). There is a crazy whirling: writhing prostitutes and voluptuous characters are dancing everywhere. The almost demented Narcissus finally drowns himself, and not even his father and his mother can console him before that. (On the stage we could see a naked man climbing into a large tank full of water, which slowly became overflowed with blood.)

László Vidovszky: Narcissus and EchoLászló Vidovszky: Narcissus and EchoIt is important to note that the full length of the opera is not more than 20 minutes. To squeeze an opera with arias, duets, dancers and a choir into this duration is a huge task. That is why the scenes are very brief, the music is sweeping, and there are no unneeded parts at all. We can observe several references to other classical works (at the first hearing I could notice Das Rheingold, Peer Gynt and Brahms’ Hungarian dance No. 5, but there are certainly others, too). The music may be a bit pretentious, but it is impressive, and the ’stuttering-choir’ in the finale is sensational (it must have been a hard work to learn it).  

Narcissus and Echo were sung by Tamás Farkas and Ágnes Anna Kun, respectively. The former excelled as an actor, just like the latter, who has a ringing contralto voice. Ágnes Molnár and Máté Szécsi sang in this part of the evening again, the other singers were Zsuzsa Kalocsai and Gábor Birta, all of them gave a powerful, concentrated performance.

*

Under the baton of Krisztián Balassa the Orchestra of the Miskolc National Theatre was playing vividly, vigorously, following precisely the fast tempi, as well.

We can rarely see contemporary Hungarian operas, and after watching these two works it is even more difficult for me to understand, why.

 

 

Balázs Csák
(www.operaportal.hu)

*


19 June, 2014, Miskolc, Grand Theatre – Miskolc Opera Festival

 

’MEN IN THE CROSSHAIRS’

 

Performed by the company of the Budapest Operetta Threatre and the Orchestra of the Miskolc National Theatre

Set: Erzsébet Túri

Costume: Erzsébet Túri

Musical director: Krisztián Balassa

Choreography: János Papp

Chorus master: Péter Drucker

Music assistant: Anikó Katona

Music assistant: János Mihalics

Assistant director: Márta Angyal

Conductor: Krisztián Balassa

Stage director: Szilárd Somogyi

 

*

 

László Dubrovay:

 

Ransom

 

Opera in one act

Sung in Hungarian.

Libretto by Ferenc Baranyi

 

Cast:

The Boss - Gábor Dániel

Minister of war - Máté Szécsi

Minister of agriculture - Dániel Kelemen

Minister of finance - István Kristóf

Minister of education - Zsolt Homonnay

Laura - Tünde Frankó

Secretary - Ágnes Molnár

*

 

László Vidovszky:

 

Narcissus and Echo

 

Opera in one act

Sung in Hungarian.

Libretto by Dániel Varró

 

Cast:

Narcissus - Tamás Farkas

Echo - Ágnes Anna Kun

Venus - Ágnes Molnár

Father - Gábor Birta

Mother - Zsuzsa Kalocsai

Gravedigger - Máté Szécsi

 

 

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