The Key to the Future opera composition competition was devised by the Bartók Plus Opera Festival to draw attention to the need for new 'popular operas'. Eighteen composers submitted their entries in 2018.
The professional jury decided that Albin Fries' opera, Nora, was the winner. It was premiered in the Miskolc National Theatre at the Bartók Plus Opera Festival on 20 June 2019.
On the Festival's Facebook page, the composer is quoted with the following remarks about his work. He had set out, so he said, in a deliberate counter direction to that taken by those who compose inellectual opera today. He had deliberately chosen a 'sentimental libretto' (written by Miriam Mollard), which gives the message, if there is one - that the character Arthur can only understand the purity of love by loving his own child.
Albin Fries' own compositoinal style, he himself underlines, is late Romantic. The opera is set somewhere between 1890 and 1910, which he somewhat optimistically feels both suits and justifies it.
The story is that of Arthur Sonnenfels, a music student in Vienna. The part of the younger Arthur was sung by Valentina Pluzhnikova, mezzo soprano. Arthur falls in love with Nora before he is obliged to emigrate to Brazil. They spend the night together. Arthur leaves and his marriage plans fail. When the older Arthur - now interpreted by tenor Pedro Velázquez Diaz - returns to Vienna two decades later, he has become a well-known composer. However, his biggest dream, to express love through his music, has not hitherto been successful and remains unfulfilled!
By chance, Arthur meets a young lady, Desirée, in the park. Shocked, he believes that he has seen Nora and suddenly suffers a heart attack. Desirée takes him home and Arthur realises that she is his daughter. When he tries to set this love he feels for her into his music, he suffers another heart attack and dies. The opera ends with this - his love, expressed in music - which he had finally found!
The libretto is exaggeratedly sentimental, lenghty and overflowing with clichés. Arthur's health problems lasted so long that I could hardly wait for him to die. There were no original thoughts either in the music or this unfortunate libretto. Mr Fries borrowed from a selection of composers' styles. In so doing, he turned Nora into a jumbled mishmash, a poor imitiation of the music of some of the greatest opera composers. As for the singers, I missed both good acting and outstanding voices.
In addition, I felt uncertainty and hesitancy in the Hungarian Symphonic Orchestra's playing. Unfortunately, the acoustic was not clean, which was so annoying. The brass section was far too loud and harsh, frequently drowning other instruments and singers alike. There really was no balance.
The stage set was simple, mainly grey or indescriminately dark. A square of a little town, a hall of a skyscraper and a room of a house changed over on the revolving stage during the opera's three acts. The costumes recalled the fashion of the time.
What I liked most in this performance was the justly famous Cantemus Children's Choir of Nyíregyháza. The girl singers, as well as the Choirmaster, Dénes Szabó, deserve high praise. They were outstanding; their true, clear ringing tone and cheerful performance were both heartwarming and impressive.
Nora can, perhaps, go on to stimulate debates in the future. However, for the present, the reception was mixed. Several people left the auditorium during the intervals, yet those who watched the whole performance applauded loudly for fifteen minutes. Most of the audience, therefore, can be said to have enjoyed it.
Copyright © 26 June 2019 Anett Fodor, Hungary