Hungarian State Opera To Make U.S. Debut At Lincoln Center's Koch Theater
The Hungarian State Opera (HSO), one of the world's busiest opera companies, comes to the United States this fall for the first time ever, presenting four operas by Hungarian composers, including two U.S. premieres, at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater, October 30 to November 3. This week of opera is followed by another week of performances presented by the Hungarian National Ballet, November 6 to 11, as well as an opera and ballet gala on November 4 and the Carnegie Hall debut of the HSO Orchestra on November 5. These U.S. performances build upon the HSO's rich history of touring, which stretches back 100 years and includes performances in numerous European capitals including Amsterdam, Helsinki, Moscow, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, and Vienna, and in countries including Canada, China, Egypt, Japan (ten times), Mexico, Taiwan, and Peru. Ongoing renovations to the Hungarian State Opera House have presented an opportunity for increased touring this season, including the chance to introduce American audiences to the company and its repertoire, much of it rarely seen or heard.
At Koch Theater, the operas run from Tuesday, October 30 to Saturday, November 3, beginning and ending with the U.S. premiere performances of Ferenc Erkel's Bánk Bán (1861), considered Hungary's national opera. Opening night begins at 7:30 p.m., and the closing performance of Bánk Bán starts at 8:00 p.m. Karl Goldmark's The Queen of Sheba (1875) is presented on Wednesday, October 31 and Friday, November 2 at 7:30 p.m., fully staged in New York for the first time in over 100 years. Béla Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle, premiered by the company in 1918, is performed on Thursday, November 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 3 at 1:00 p.m. in celebration of the opera's centennial. On a double bill with Bluebeard's Castle is János Vajda's Mario and the Magician (1988), adapted from Thomas Mann's novella of the same title and never before staged in the U.S.
On Sunday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m., the HSO hosts a gala concert with the Hungarian National Ballet, which is a part of the opera company and responsible for three ballet productions at Koch Theater from November 6 to 11. The gala program features opera and ballet selections, as well as orchestral works, including music by such Hungarian composers as Béla Bartók, Ern? Dohnányi, Ferenc Erkel, Zoltán Kodály, Franz Liszt, and Leó Weiner.
Conducted by HSO principal music director Balázs Kocsár, the HSO Orchestra, which performs at the gala and in all opera and ballet productions, also makes its Carnegie Hall debut on Monday, November 5 at 8:00 p.m. With 100 musicians on stage, the Orchestra performs Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin Suite and Ern? Dohnányi's Symphonic Minutes, among other works.
Bánk Bán, the traditional season opener of the HSO, was composed by Ferenc Erkel, the father of Hungarian grand opera and composer of the country's national anthem. The libretto, in three acts, was written by Béni Egressy and based on Hungarian poet and playwright József Katona's 1819 historical tragedy of the same title, one of the most important works in Hungarian literature. Centering on the character of Bánk, a medieval court official who becomes involved in a conspiracy against the king's German-born wife, the play reflects Hungarian resistance to foreign rule and was famously staged at the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Erkel's adaptation of Bánk Bán, which premiered in Budapest on March 9, 1861, was his first complete opera since the Revolution and proved to be his most enduring work for the stage.
In addition to his legacy as a composer, Erkel was one of the country's leading conductors, pianists, and music administrators, founding the HSO in 1884 and serving as its first music director. His prominent position in Hungarian musical life put him in contact with some of the nineteenth century's leading musicians, including Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz, both admirers of his music. He introduced Berlioz to the traditional Rákóczi March, later included in The Damnation of Faust, and with Liszt, he helped establish what is now known as the Franz Liszt Academy of Music.
In the upcoming production of Bánk Bán, the title role is sung by baritone Levente Molnár, who regularly performs at opera houses around the world. In the past few years, he has performed at the opera houses of London, Munich, Tokyo, and Zürich, among others, including the Metropolitan Opera, where he appeared in 2016 as Marcello in La bohème and as Malatesta in Don Pasquale. In addition to being a member of the HSO, he is a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper and Opernhaus Zürich.
The Queen of Sheba is the first and most popular opera by Hungarian-born composer Karl Goldmark, who spent most of his life in Vienna. Featuring a German libretto by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal, the plot adds a love triangle to the Biblical story of the Queen of Sheba's visit to the court of King Solomon. The opera was an immediate success following its world premiere at the Vienna State Opera on March 10, 1875 and was soon staged in Budapest, Hamburg, Prague, and Saint Petersburg, among other cities across Europe. The Queen of Sheba had its U.S. premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House on December 2, 1885 and was last performed there on January 27, 1906. It has not been fully staged in New York since.
In Vienna, the opera was performed nearly every year until the ban on Jewish composers in 1937, and even after World War II it remained popular in Budapest for another 30 years. Yet, both in Hungary and internationally, The Queen of Sheba has languished in relative obscurity for decades. As the tradition of nineteenth-century grand opera is increasingly being rediscovered through the works of Meyerbeer, Halévy, and others, the HSO has mounted a revival of Goldmark's masterpiece in recent years, which it now brings to the U.S.
At Koch Theater, the title role is sung by mezzo-soprano Erika Gál in her U.S. debut. She has performed as the Queen since the HSO revived the opera in 2015 and also appears on the company's recording of selections from the work. Early in her career, she gained valuable experience on scholarship at Bayreuth, and since then, in addition to returning to Germany and Hungary, she has performed in Finland, Italy, Austria, Romania, Japan, and Thailand.
The HSO gave the world premiere of Béla Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle on May 24, 1918 and has since staged more than 500 performances of the opera. From May 24 to 27, 2018, the company celebrated the opera's centennial with a new production premiere and the revival of two former, legendary productions at the HSO's Erkel Theatre. The libretto, sung in Hungarian by the HSO, is a retelling of Charles Perrault's "La Barbe bleue" that librettist Béla Balázs originally intended for composer Zoltán Kodály. Bartók eventually set the text instead, completing the first version of Bluebeard's Castle by 1911 so that it could be considered for the Ferenc Erkel Prize, which it did not win due to disqualification from the opera category.
Mario and the Magician, composed by János Vajda (b. 1949) and premiered by the HSO in 1988, is one of Hungary's most successful contemporary operas. The libretto is based on Thomas Mann's 1929 anti-fascist novella Mario und der Zauberer, which criticizes Italian nationalism and tells the story of a manipulative hypnotist.
Bass András Palerdi performs the roles of both Bluebeard and the hypnotist Cipolla. After studies in the U.S. and Vienna, he began his professional career at the Wiener Staatsoper as a winner of the Herbert von Karajan Stipendium. He has since performed at venues from Carnegie Hall to Tokyo's Suntory Hall, singing as Bluebeard at the latter. He has also performed the role at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under Seiji Ozawa. He is a permanent member of the HSO.
Mezzo-soprano Ildikó Komlósi is cast as Judit in Bluebeard's Castle. A leading interpreter of this role, she has performed it in recent years at the BBC Proms, La Scala, Tanglewood, and Verbier Festival, in addition to the HSO. Her international career started in 1986 when she won the Pavarotti Singing Competition and debuted alongside Luciano Pavarotti. She is a recurring guest at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Wiener Staatsoper, Semperoper Dresden, and La Scala, among other companies.
The Hungarian State Opera was founded in 1884 by the Government of the Kingdom of Hungary, and its first directors were Ferenc Erkel, a Hungarian conductor, composer, and key figure in Hungarian opera culture, and Frigyes Campilli, a dancer, choreographer and ballet master of Italian-German origin, who founded the first ballet troupe in Hungary. With two theaters?the opulent neo-Renaissance-style Opera House and the more modern Erkel Theatre?the company can accommodate an audience of more than 3,200 people on a single night. Repertoire includes well- and lesser-known Hungarian and international operas and ballets, as well as contemporary and commissioned works. Each year, the company presents more than 200 performances of 60-70 operas, more than 100 ballet performances, as well as musicals, and orchestra concerts, making it one of the busiest opera houses in the world. The Hungarian State Opera contracts a roster of 150 singers, and has three ensembles: a 200-member symphony orchestra; the first and largest professional chorus in Hungary, which also has 200 members including the children's chorus; and the only classical ballet company in Hungary with its 130 members. For more information, visit opera.hu.