Hungarian State Opera, Budapest, Hungary; January 25, 2015
Holocaust 1944 Concert; January 26, 2015
The Hungarian State Opera House is an impressive building, matched by the extent of the programming here and in the large Erkel Theatre – Budapest’s residents and visitors are spoilt for choice – together with schemes to introduce young people to ballet, opera and concerts. The Ballet Director, Tamás Solymosi, following a distinguished career as a dancer, spent a period as Deputy Director of the renowned Hungarian Dance Academy and it is notable that the company has a higher proportion of home grown talent than most.
In 2002, Solymosi danced the role of Onegin at the State Opera House and in a programme interview describes how the combination of John Cranko’s “marvellous artistic ability” together with the gem of Pushkin’s verse novel made it a priority for him to bring this signature work back into the repertoire. “Onegin” is a prime lesson in how to tell a dance story succinctly and clearly, but the crowning glory of the ballet is the series of duets evoking an unparalleled range of emotions and relationships.
The current Hungarian National Ballet production features new designs and costumes by Thomas Mika, who has already created several productions of the ballet around the world. In contrast with the original designs by Jürgen Rose, still used by Stuttgart Ballet, the Royal Ballet and several others, Mika has a simpler, more stylised concept for the stage that is attractive and gave the choreography the central focus.
For anyone unfamiliar with the story, in the opening scene, bookish romantic Tatyana falls in love at first sight with Onegin, a friend of Lensky, suitor of her sister, Olga. Onegin is a bored sophisticate and his understandable but crass rejection of Tatyana and subsequent flirtation with Olga at a party leads to the tragic duel where Lensky is killed by his best friend. Onegin is exiled and on his return finds that Tatyana has married a family friend, Prince Gremin. Realising that he loves Tatyana, he declares his love, but after the heroine has struggled between desire and duty, he is rejected, mirroring his earlier rejection of Tatyana.
As Tatyana, Aliya Tanykpayeva, exhibits both technical accomplishment and powerful emotions. Adrienn Pap plays Olga as bright, mischievous soul, so that it comes as no surprise when she embarks on the tragic party flirtation with Onegin. Dmitry Timofeev brings vigour to the part of Lensky and delineates this headstrong character whose sense of honour leads him to his death. As Onegin, Zoltán Oláh, underplays the role initially and slowly builds an emotional wave.
The impassioned Act II duet in which Tatyana dreams of Onegin visiting her through a mirror after she has written and rewritten her love letter to him is always memorable, and Tanykpayeva and Oláh bring Magyar passion to the dramatic lifts and swirling choreography. The duel scene features an emotionally charged pas de trois for Lensky and the two sisters as they try but fail to persuade him to apologise. The final scenes show us Tatyana and Gremin’s marriage to be based on friendship and respect and in the telling penultimate scene, Gremin seems puzzled by his wife’s pleas for him to remain. The passion of Act II is revisited in real life in the final scene as Oláh shows Onegin desperately trying to rescue his life and his love, only to fail. The corps de ballet dance Cranko’s choreography for the garden and party scenes with vibrant life and were finely synchronised.
The Hungarian National Ballet honoured Cranko’s memory with this fine production. Later this year, the company will premiere “Manon” in the city, and doubtless bring the same intensity to this ballet by Cranko’s friend, Sir Kenneth Macmillan.
The following night’s concert, also in the State Opera House, marked the end of the commemoration of the Holocaust in Budapest; many Opera House artists having been among the victims. Staying in the old Jewish Quarter, I visited the site of the massacre of so many Jews at the very end of the War at the hands of the Hungarian fascists as well as the Germans. The main work in the concert was Górecki’s “Third Symphony” or “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”. Soprano Orsolya Hajnalka Rőser, conductor Ari Rasilainen and the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra gave a resonant performance of this beautiful, desperately sad work.