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Gyula FeketeGyula FeketeInterview with composer Gyula Fekete, the head of the Composition Department of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest, about his opera The story of a mother premiered at the Miskolc Opera Festival in 2015. The interview was made before the premiere of June 12.





Your opera The story of a mother, to be premiered now at the Miskolc Opera Festival, was written several years ago. When exactly?

I finished it ten years ago, in 2005. I began to write it in Hungary, and finished it in Chicago, where I was a scholarship holder.  

Why did we have to wait for the premiere for ten years?

Nowadays composers rather work by invitation, maybe for a competition, when they can be sure, that their work will be premiered.  However, The tale of the mother was unusual, as it was not written by invitation. When I had finished it, I went to see some opera directors and musical directors, of course. Everybody was very enthusiatic, and I was made several promises.  However, by the time these premieres would have been realized, those directors were never in the same position anymore. For in those years the directorate of the Opera House in Budapest were changed almost every year. Conductor Gergely Kesselyák, the director of the Miskolc Opera Festival has also wanted to present my work for years, but until now there was no money for it. Until now. I think it very important to mention, that over the years Sándor Zsótér, the stage-director of the performance has also helped me a lot; he has  stood up for it from the beginning, just as critic Péter Molnár Gál has.

According to the new conception of the Miskolc Opera Festival, formulated some years ago, modern, public-friendly operas – so-called people’s operas – are billed here in the first place. Is The story of a mother an opera of this kind?

I did not write it with the intention to create a people’s opera. However, I think it is a melodic piece, and simpler in its world of harmony, than my other operas.

Scene from the Story of a motherScene from the Story of a motherThe opera was written after Andersen’s fairy-tale. What is it about?

About love, about the unselfish self-sacrifice arising from paramount love. If you know Andersen, you may suspect, that it is not a happy fairy-tale. What is more, The tale of a mother is exceptional even among those fairy-tales: the story begins very sadly, with a tragedy. After that it becomes even more sad, then ’gets elavated’ with an interesting twist, and the end is beautiful, sublime. The libretto was written by Zsuzsa Beney, who is, unfortunately, not with us anymore. She was an exceptionally sensitive, excellent poet, who wrote a beautiful lyrics again, as always. Iam very grateful to fate, that we met.

How did the idea come to write an opera from this piece?

It is often said that composers should write more operas for children, because there is a shortage of them. Which is true. Some people - for example Éva Marton, among others - began to pursuade me to write a work like this, and I began to look for tales. Finally I chose this one, but it immediately became clear to me, that it is not going to be a fairy-tale; we can call it a family opera at best. Of course, the whole story is a tale, with fairy-tale-like figures: the Lake sings, just as Night and the Thorn brush do, but the piece is clearly for adults.

How difficult is the music for the performers: the orchestra and the singers?

The musical material is not difficult. It is tonal music, so intonation or pitching the right notes is not difficult for the singers, either. However - because of its dramatic nature - the role of the Mother is quite demanding. But Tünde Frankó is outstanding in this role.

How big is the orchestra?

When we will perform the opera at the Solti Hall of the Music Academy, the orchestra will have twenty-some musicians. Now, at the Miskolc Opera Festival it is larger, because the whole string section is going to play.

So you will continue performing the piece after the Festival.

Yes, the performance here is a cooproduction of the Operetta Theatre and the Miskolc Opera Festival, while the one in Budapest will be another cooproduction between the Operetta Theatre and the Music Academy.

As I understand, your work should be performed on a smaller stage.

Yes, because it is important to create an intimate atmosphere; the closeness of the audience makes the work easier for them to understand and to recieve.

Gyula FeketeGyula FeketeWhy was the Operetta Theatre chosen? 

On the one hand, because they have performed several contemporary operas recently. But there is another important reason regarding the musical language of the piece: there are both opera singers and musical singers performing in this work. It may seem an odd combination, but the work itself is also written a little bit in this way, at the border between opera and musical. The solo parts can also be sung by musical singers and the opera singers have to work on sounding more ’musical-like’, than they usually do. However, there will be no amplification.     

In your latest opera Excelsior! Liszt’s and Wagner’s melodies and harmonies were also echoed. Of course, it followed from the subject of that work, but can you - composers of today - be independent from the different musical antecedents? And do you want to become independent of them?  

I do not think we can, as every composer has recollections, but it was the same in every era. For me The story of a mother also contains several reminiscences, implications; I used examples from music literature. They are not citations, of course, as in Excelsior!, but inspirations, moods.

During working on an opera can you exactly imagine how it will be performed on stage? 

I never imagine it, I gave it up a long time ago… Because it will definitely be different - and maybe better - from what I imagined. My opera The redeemed town was directed by Péter Halász, Roman fever by György Selmeczi, then by András Almássy-Tóth, Excelsior! by Péter Gothár, The story of a mother by Sándor Zsótér. All of them had a clear conception about the piece. But it is all right, because stage-direction is a profession, and it is not the composer, who directs… Of course, it happens sometimes, that one or two of my ideas are accepted by the stage-director. 

Are you working on a new opera?

On opera, no. I am writing a shorter orchestral piece for a Bartók memorial concert, which will be premiered this Autumn.

Balázs Csák



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