Opera Competition CompositionOpera Competition CompositionReview of the operas performed at the Opera Composition Competition. This year the Competition of the Miskolc Opera Festival was held for the second time. The jury have chosen three operas out of the works submitted during the year, which were presented to the audience on the 17th of June. The operas were performed with a piano accompaniment, in the style of the ’Reading theatre’. However, certain parts of these works will be presented with an orchestra on the last evening of the Festival, at the Gala. The jury will make the final decision after listening to the pieces on both occasions. At the Gala the audience can vote, too, and only after that will the winner opera of this year’s competition be announced. That work will be performed in full at the Bartók + Opera Festival in 2015.

According to the Call of the Competition, the jury expects finished and orchestrated ’popular operas’ composed with the highest aesthetic aspirations of operas, but are also easily acceptable for wider audiences.

The three finalist operas were Eugenia Manolides’ La pisanella, Andrzej Karalow’s Kepler and Apor Szüts’ The chirurgeon in Halle. (The jury made its decision earlier with four votes in favour and one abstention.)

The members of the jury were Gergely Kesselyák, conductor, director of the Opera Festival, Girolamo Deraco, composer, Aldo Tarabella, composer, stage director, Karel Drgac, stage-director, Gyula Fekete, composer, Balázs Kocsár, conductor and Tamás Beischer-Matyó, composer.

The operas were performed at the Chamber Theatre of the Miskolc National Theatre. As these pieces were completely new for the audience, at this stage of the competition only a small circle of people was interested in them. The soloists were singing without costumes, but were acting, usually with the score in their hands. The vocal parts (including most of the solo ones) were performed by the Choir of the Csokonai Theatre of Debrecen, with Tamás Csurgó conducting. The stage director and the choreographer was Péter Gemza.

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First we listened to Apor Szüts’ opera The chirurgeon in Halle. The young composer, who is only 21, was awarded second prize at the Aci Bertoncejl International Piano Competition in Slovenia, and founded the ApOrchestra Symphony Orchestra in 2012. This ensemble provides an opportunity to perform for talented, young musicians, and apart from the classical repertoire plays the works of Apor Szüts, as well.

Opera Competition Composition – The chirurgeon in HalleOpera Competition Composition – The chirurgeon in HalleThe Chirurgeon in Halle is about the life of the 9 year-old Georg Friedrich Händel. The essence of the conflict is, that although the young Händel is a prodigy, recognized by everyone, his rigorous father (who is a chirurgeon, that is, a court doctor) does not want to hear of his son becoming an ’obsequious’ court musician. He wants the little Georg to become a lawyer, and even has his son’s beloved piano taken away from the house authoritatively. Fortunately, the boy is not alone: his mother, Dorothea and the servant, Katharina support him, and there are also his admirers: Krieger, the court conductor, Matheus, the chorister, and the Prince of Weissenfels himself. The father, who is suddenly all alone, after a long struggle finally gets the better of himself, and gives his blessing to his son’s decision to become a musician.

The story itself is interesting, of course, and could even be appropriate for an opera for the stage, but the way it was done now – Apor Szüts’ opera – was only a mixed success. 

The music is exciting, but is inadequate for the story. It reminded me of Gershwin, based on jazz-like rhythms and harmonies, but we are in a totally different milieu and age: at the end of the 17th century, when Händel was a child. Of course, if a work is written about Händel, it does not necessarily has to imitate the music of Händel (which would be quite difficult, anyway). However, I would have expected that the atmosphere, the tone of the music of the great componist would be worked in the opera. Because, after all, this piece is about him. But in this form, how The chirurgeon in Halle recounts the story, it could take place anywhere and anytime. For this there is no need to use Händel’s life as a theme. Maybe it was only the choir at the beginning of Act II, which reminded me a bit of a baroque oratorio, the other parts did not.

On the other hand, it was exactly the use of the choir, which was problematic. Because The chirurgeon in Halle is a chamber opera, with only a few soloists, so the use of a large choir coming on the stage only for a short scene does not really fit in this work. (Anyway, using this large choir will also make it difficult to stage it in the possible future.)

The main character is a child, but it is not possible to write a leading part in an opera for a nine year-old child. The composer also knew it, of course, so the real protagonist is not the young girl playing the role of Händel – even so, her part is not easy – but the father. (I suppose, that the part of Händel was originally written for a boy soprano, but it is difficult to find a boy soprano, and since we are talking about a child’s voice, this is not really relevant.) On the other hand, the part of the father is written for a very deep voice, and it really needs a basso profondo to be able to sing it with a large orchestra.

There were also problems with the prosody: the Hungarian words often sounded non-Hungarian, because they did not always match the rhythms and the accents of the music well.  

Nevertheless, the performance showed that Apor Szüts has a good sense of dramaturgy, and the music of the piece is not bad, either (the jazz-like song of the maid is very melodious), but it does not really match the story. In my opinion, the opera in its present form is not for the stage yet, but it is evident, that in Apor Szüts we met a technically well prepared, talented young composer.   

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The second opera called La Pisanella was written by Eugenia Manolides. The Greek composer studied choral conducting and piano at Juilliard School in New York, among others. She writes symphonic works in the first place, and she already has a CD. As I read in her biography, it was mainly Greek history and mythology that had an important effect on her music.  

The opera is based on the historical play La Pisanella written by Gabriele D’Annunzio, who was born at the beginning of the last century. The story is about the love of Prince Ughetto Frank and the young Pisanella. It takes place in 1330 on the island of Cyprus affected at that time by starvation and disease.

Opera Competition Composition – La pisanellaOpera Competition Composition – La pisanellaFrom the beginning the opera is characterised by Greek-sounding melodies, also recounting some renaissance music. In the first few minutes it seemed to me, that the opera will really meet one of the requirements set by the jury of a ’popular opera’, namely, that it should be melodic, and easily acceptable for wider audiences. However, there are other, equally important requirements, too: the works submitted should be written with ’the highest aesthetic aspirations of classical music’ (quoted from the Competition Call). But in this opera nothing really happened. There were pleasant melodies from the beginning to the end, usually in the same key; we felt like slumbering under the Mediterranean olive trees, while there was a drama happening on the stage, or rather, it should have been happening.

In the story there is a romantic prince, who falls in love with a very poor girl. He only sees her for a moment, but later recognizes her among some slaves and takes her to a cloister. However, the prostitutes arriving with the not so romantic uncle of the prince recognize her: she is one of them, she was also a prostitute earlier. So the prince takes his love to another cloister. The queen watches her son desperately, who – being blinded by love - neglects his duties as a statesman, while the country is threatened by foreign invaders. Therefore, the queen calls the girl into her castle and poisens her.

Based upon this story even a good music drama could have been born, but the composer could not take the opportunity. Besides the already mentioned monotonous music there were other problems, too (or rather, they followed from the monotony), namely, that the characters were not charismatic, the situations were not really interesting, and there were no catharsis at all. The music is not balanced well, either, the female choir sings too much (and too monotonously). The music – with some exceptions - does not have much to do with the drama, the whole piece rather seemed to me a bunch of pleasant songs, not an opera. (However, at this point I would like to emphasize that we listened to the works with only a piano accompaniment, so we do not know the sound of the orchestra yet.)

 

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The last opera we listened to was Andrzej Karalow’s opera Kepler. The young composer – winner of several international piano competitions – studied piano and composition in Warsaw.

Opera Competition Composition – KeplerOpera Competition Composition – KeplerKepler is a vision based on an interesting idea. Adam and Eve arrive on a planet called Kepler. They have escaped to this mystical, dream-like planet from the dying Earth, breaking with the burden of their past and memories, and they are full of hope to build a new world for themselves. However, the shadow on the walls of their cave and the stream running near them remind Eve of the past. She realizes that she cannot forget her memories and her former self, and that the planet Kepler – the Paradise – is only an illusion, a place, where they cannot be happy. The rain dissolves this utopian dream-world. Adam and Eve wake up to the truth, that their real home is on Earth and they have to live there.

A peculiar work, a beautiful vision with a sublime poetry (libretto written by Maciej Papierski). The music bears witness to deep technical knowledge, but as it is usually based on dissonant chords and consists only fragments of melodies, rather than melodies, it is not easily accessible, especially if we approach the work from the requirements of a ’popular opera’. What is more, this piece is not really an opera, I would rather call it an oratorio (without a choir).

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I intentionally did not write about the singers. As I have already mentioned above, most of the soloists were choir members, who did a commendable, great job by learning these new works. However, I would like to mention two singers by name (besides Imre Ürmössy in the role of Händel’s father, who is an experienced singer): Éva Fehér (Pisanella – La Pisanella) and Csilla Kovács (Eve – Kepler), both of them were singing beautifully.

We have heard three new operas on this day. Though they have several values, I did not find any of them outstanding. At the competition of last year there was no winner announced. This year we will see, maybe the excerpts performed with an orchestra at the end of the Festival can still surprise us.

Balázs Csák
(www.operaportal.hu)

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June 17, 2014, Miskolc, Chamber Theatre

 

OPERA COMPOSING COMPETITION

Performed by the Choir of Csokonai Theatre

Stage director and choreographer: Péter Gemza

Conductor: Tamás Csurgó

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Apor Szüts:

 

The chirurgeon in Halle

Opera in two acts

Libretto: István Ungár

In memory of Magda Szabó

 

Cast:

The chirurgeon, the court surgeon of the province of Weissenfels – Imre Ürmössy

Dorothea, his wife – Enikő Lévai

The child, the son of the chirurgeon and Dorothea – Rita Csontos

Katharina, the maid of the family of the chirurgeon – Mónika Susán

Matheus, the chorister – Gergely Lakatos

Krieger, court conductor – Imre Donkó

The prince of Weissenfels – Tibor Kun

The princess – Zsófia Janovicz

Master Martin, the drunken cobbler – János Vincze

Carman – Levente Kovács

Piano accompaniment: Dávid Kozma

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Eugenia Manolides:

 

La pisanella

Opera  in four acts

The libretto is based on Gabriele d’ Annunzio’s work of the same title.

 

Cast:

La Pisanella – Éva Fehér

The prince of Tire – Péter Udvarhelyi

The prince of Ughetto – Gergely Biri

Queen – Ildikó Prohászka

Father Leone – Koppány Bene

Oberto Embriao – Tamás Harsányi

Troubadour – Tamás Ladjánszki

Oriur – Zsuzsanna Bai

Dama Ecciva – Erika Simon

Biancofiore – Tímea Pintér

Treasurer – István Bocskai

Odiarte – Krisztina Törő

Nuns – Emőke Deák, Sára Repka, Szilvia Tóth

Prostitutes – Magdolna Marjai, Tünde Lévai, Krisztina Törő

Piano accompaniment: Péter Gyülvészi

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Andrzej Karalow:

 

Kepler

Opera  in two acts

Libretto: Maciej Papierski

Cast:

Adam – Norbert Antómi

Eve – Csilla Kovács

Piano accompaniment: Tünde Turányi

 

 

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