kesselyak portre 2016 webGergely Kesselyák conductor, festivaldirektorWithout the emergence of contemporary popular opera capable of addressing huge audiences opera performances will become mere museums and the opera genre, falling short of broad social support, will diminish into a narrow sub-sector of the performing arts. Directorial opera-staging has been delaying the slow decline of the genre, but it is not enough any more. Time has come that composers renew and save the opera! Composers of all countries! Create the radically new opera genre that combines the popularity of musicals with the highest aesthetic aspirations of classical music thus reviving the spirit of Mozart, Verdi and Puccini.


Appendix to the Artistic Manifesto of the Bartók Plus Opera Festival, Miskolc


The cornerstone of creative art is the free play of the artists’ imagination. In the following, we only try to outline the possible characteristics of a new operatic genre. We seek professional criteria that can raise a musical piece that openly and ambitiously strives for popularity into the sphere of classical music. The ideas brought forward are strictly no more than recommendations. We heartily welcome any authorial attitude that shows alternative methods to solve the problem.
The ambition to renew the operatic genre has deep historical roots. The past century has seen several musical theatrical tendencies in the same spirit. Without claiming completeness, Honegger’s, Orff’s, Korngold’s, Gershwin’s, Kurt Weil’s, Menotti’s, Bernstein’s or Sondheim’s oeuvre; just like several Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich pieces and the best traditions of the cinema are recognized, even by leading representatives of classical music, as legitimate attempts to create the new popular opera.
This Manifesto of the „Bartók+” Opera Festival, Miskolc encourages the creation of contemporary popular opera, which we find is missing from the varied palette of opera genres in our age. Our initiative, however, does not imply any disrespect for existing attempts to renew the international opera stage, earlier works or progressive contemporary opera.

1. The human voice:
The principal criterion of opera is the use of the human voice as a means of artistic expression. Thus, expressive singing is not enough; the timbre or tone colour of a given voce ( = its physical characteristics, its overtone system) must carry an aesthetic quality. The classic “bel canto” voice is most suitable for this purpose; but other techniques complying with the criterion, that is capable of conveying artistic content by virtue of their unique qualities, are also applicable for enrichment.
Works of the opera genre rely heavily on the inherent, primary expressiveness of the human voice. Accordingly, the vocal score may be easy, difficult, or even daring, but its composition will undoubtedly reflect anthropomorphic thinking.

2. Music:
High-level composition, compositional interrelation and orchestration representing an added artistic value, are all general requirements for classical music. In the case of the opera several further disciplines of dramaturgy and musical dramaturgy will make additional demands. With all benevolence, we wish to call the authors’ attention to the fact that many contemporary operas fail right here. Dramaturgy, the study of the modes of action affecting the human psyche, the nervous system and even the instincts is to be considered to its true significance. Mozart did the same, though instinctively.
The orchestral parts, individually as well as in their totality, are also important carriers of artistic and dramatic expression. The orchestra rarely, if ever provide simple accompaniment, commentary or background.

3. Script:
The triple unities of music-script-action presuppose conscious dramatic editing. Speech is recognized as an acceptable expressive device. From the beginning to the end, there must be a musical-structural arc, into which the potential speech elements will fit functionally.

4. Styles:
Ever since the baroque, opera composers quoted, used and integrated musical styles, rhythms and dances of their age into their work. Mozart created one of the most outstanding oeuvre of classical music literature by using the “pop music” of his age. And the key element here is that the adequacy of his use of “pop music” in the service of dramatic expression cannot be questioned at any moment.

5. Electronics:
Great predecessors have always dared to use new instruments, the pop or folk instruments of their age. We all know that the clarinet gained its rightful position in classical music in Mozart’s oeuvre. Therefore, it is obvious that the opera genre, seeking extreme modes of expression for drama, would make use of today’s (or yesterday’s) instruments, the various electric guitars and synthetic sound effects. However, we regard the replacement of classical instruments by a synthesizer as an unfortunate tendency.
The use of electric musical instruments raises the question of using an electric sound system at the opera. In our opinion, using an electric sound system in the new genre is conceivable. It is important, though, that it may not serve to cover the deficiency of a proper singing voice. It is all the more necessary to enforce the principles formulated in connection with the human voice if we apply an electric sound system in the opera.
In the course of the work of composition, at the orchestration phase, an artistic decision is to be made whether partial or complete use of an amplifying sound system is needed during the whole opera or in its certain parts.

6. Contemporary dramatic effects:
In Mozart’s age, the diminished seventh was regarded the devil itself, and the dramatic effect was exceptionally strong with Verdi as well. Mozart’s demonic tempo, Verdi’s lapidary rhythms, his orchestration effects were intended to affect the audience’s intellect and instincts at the same time. The task today is to seek for the artistic means of expression that have similar effects, taking into account the stimulus threshold of the contemporary audience - both intellectually and on the level of instincts.

7. Aesthetic concept:
The often repeated philosophical foundations of contemporary music that is not acceptable for the wide public is that the present is terrible, and this is to be expressed in art. In all ages, many people regarded the world as terrible. There have always been horrors, as beauty is not unknown even today.
Rather, the philosophical approach for contemporary music suitable to address wide audiences, could be that the recipient expects art to help him rise above the daily difficulties of life. We do not mind confronting drama but prefer to have the bright skies loom at least somewhere within the music.


Gergely Kesselyák
Art Director of the Bartók Plus Opera Festival

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