Ensemble

'Music Makes a Town'

ANETT FODOR reports from the opening gala
of the 2019 Bartók Plus Opera Festival

 

Miskolc can be found in the North-East region of Hungary far from the capital city Budapest and even further from the country's western border. It is the capital of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county. The whole region is extremely beautiful, but the forced industrialisation of the past Soviet era with its aftermath have left almost indelible imprints on the city. After the change of regime, many factories were closed and the rate of unemployment increased massively. Thousands of inhabitants left to seek employment elsewhere. In such an unstable situation the city needed not only substantial economic change, but cultural changes as well.

An aerial view of the Buza and Heroes Square area of Miskolc. Photo taken before 2006
An aerial view of the Buza and Heroes Square area of Miskolc. Photo taken before 2006

The idea of this festival came from Péter Müller Sziámi - Managing Director, 2000/2002; presently Creative Consultant and Director of Foreign Relations. His idea of organising an international opera festival in this depressed region surprised everyone. It seemed utterly absurd, even crazy. Yet the festival has became a well-known cultural event in Hungary and has earned a fine reputation on the international music scene.

Advertising for the 2019 Bartók Plus Opera Festival
Advertising for the 2019 Bartók Plus Opera Festival

In 2001, the objective of the founders of the International Opera Festival was to revive the city as well as connect it and the region to international musical life - hence the apt slogan, Music Makes a Town.

At present, the festival's main purpose is to propagate modern and contemporary operas, which can address and attract large audiences. Besides these modern works, classical pieces, large-scale free performances and even an opera writing competition take place during its duration.

This year the nineteenth Bartók Plus Opera Festival takes place from 14-23 June. The opening evening Gala Concert of the ten-day festival was given on Friday evening by four national and one foreign soloists. These were Ágnes Molnár, Brigitta Kele, Csilla Boross, Szabolcs Brickner and Erik Fenton. The Orchestra and Choir of the Hungarian State Opera House played and sang under the direction of Gergely Kesselyák (born in 1971). The performance took place in the Miskolc National Theatre. This imposing, old building is actually a huge theatre complex: it offers performances on five stages during the season.

The National Theatre of Miskolc. Photo © 2019 Anett Fodor
The National Theatre of Miskolc. Photo © 2019 Anett Fodor

In the first half of the concert, there were excerpts from the opera La serenata al vento (Serenade to the Wind) by Aldo Finzi (1897-1945). Although this work won the opera competition in Milan, it was not performed. The introduction of laws discriminating against Jews put paid to the production.

Throughout the entire performance the orchestra was seated on the stage with a further two splinter groups to its left and to its right - the pit being too small to accommodate them. This arrangement was far from perfect and sometimes the singers could not be heard properly. After performing Finzi's pieces, Mr Kesselyák greeted the late composer's grandson, who was sitting in the audience.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1857) - the father of film music - wrote six operas. On Friday night, excerpts from his melodrama Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane) were included.

Albin Fries (born in 1955), an Austrian composer, won the Bartók Plus Opera Competition in 2018. In the second half of the Gala Concert, a beautiful aria from his winning work Nora was presented before the opera's world premiere, which will take place during the festival. The Cheryomushki Suite by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) and samplings from Turandot by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) touched the audience. Mr Kesselyák conducted so enthusiatically that the baton flew out of his hand!

In the second part of the performance, both the orchestra and the choir sounded more versed and practised - the Finzi and Krongold pieces were relatively new to both musicians and singers. The last part of the concert really impressed me.

The post-gala reception. From left to right: conductor Gergely Kesselyák, with singers Csilla Boross, Erik Fenton, Brigitta Kele and Ágnes Molnár. Photo © 2019 Anett Fodor
The post-gala reception. From left to right: conductor Gergely Kesselyák, with singers Csilla Boross, Erik Fenton, Brigitta Kele and Ágnes Molnár. Photo © 2019 Anett Fodor

I am looking forward to the events of the next eight days.

Copyright © 16 June 2019 Anett Fodor,
Miskolc, Hungary

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