Così non fa nessuno

with Nincs hozzászólás

…or how to make an ex-Mozarthater love the dollhouse opera.

All these great pictures: Niki Brozsek, Pál Bokor, Szedő Iván, not me unfortunately but during Ördögkatlan I hope to snap something.

During the whole season, once or twice a month, Dániel Dinyés and Pál Göttinger led their hilarious and witty Operabeavató (freely translates as OperaLab) show. Slowly chewing through scene after scene, presented their Mozart to the public, as they used to do in the previous editions of the show as well. The difference was, this whole year they were analysing one of operas most disliked by me which is Così fan tutte.

Initially I didn’t really love the idea that they were going to step beyond the well working formula of speaking concert (during which I came to dislike the piece a bit less, I begun to appreciate some parts of music and drama), that they were going to stage it through and present as whole opera. Because, as you already know, I hated it. Barbie house with powdercandy characters and difficult tenor and soprano parts so usually results in a total disaster. That was my opinion on the piece. Please note, past simple. WAS.
I saw most of the shows during the year and in the end, the final production. Four times. From the premiere that left me totally shocked to the last show of the series which was very “lastshow” with ad-hoc fooling around. And what I need to say rightaway:

this is insanely good *.

*I used slightly less politically correct expression talking to one of the performers after the last show, but maybe let’s stick to the version that I am jól nevelt budai úrilány at least in the terms of language.

Rather symbolic set and simple black costumes were enough to put the accent on the play itself, on the music but even more: on theatre. Dani greeted the audience and left the remaining speaking part to Pali, who commented and explained the whole in his very specific, smart and humorous way that is loved and appreciated by the spectators just as Dani’s usual exciting and passionate monologue – but this time Dani concentrated on his piano. And it might be truism for anyone who has seen this guy accompanying anyone or conducting a theatre piece, but I feel the need to speak it out loud: he is breathing with the whole stage and all the soloists at the same time, cares about unexpected rubatos and ad-hoc short breaths – as if he was that extra light counterwind that helps an airplane to land smoothly. And for his own sake I really loved the passion and engagement with which he plays Mozart, and which was radiating from his hands on the keyboard and from his face, from his whole silhouette. Both music and stage director have their own showtime when they act as choir, dressed up as two grumpy Tirol men, which is so hilarious deus ex machina and so Monty-Python that deserves at least a viral video.

Let me move to soloists though. First of all this was a rare example of a teamwork which was very, very distinctive. Everyone keeps an eye on partners and reacts when needed or when he simply feels like it – and that was one of the most important values of this production. The above being said, everyone deserves a paragraph. Because each and every person on the small Kamra stage was there for a reason and I would never swap any of them for any other artists.

Ladies first.

Anna Pálmai (Despina) was the first of two not-opera personae on stage. The actress of Katona Theatre did her best to deal with Mozart music with her not classically trained, but pleasant little soprano and got the very essence of recitativos. But her charming, twinkling, witty Despina was more than the music. Beautiful girl who moves a cat, great in serious scenes but even better in the comic ones (which is not that obvious let me mention). I think I liked the most the fact that she was not the classical Mozart-maid, and this was possible exactly because she is not an singer who grew up suffering through Susannas, Zerlinas and Blondas. Spontaneous and sweet, instantly lovable, but not lacking some kind of inner depth and frankness that I liked. My favourite scene of hers was the sleepy one with Fiordiligi and Ferrando.

The mezzosoprano of Apollónia Szolnoki (Dorabella) is quite characteristic which fitted the role perfectly and added an extra layer to her interpretation. We get one of these girls you meet every day: cute, a bit silly, very real and natural, without any demand for philosophy, without Weltschmerz or other Schmerzes from the Dictionary of Foreign Words: a plain, simple girl who lives her simple life just as it is. But what is important, and one cannot leave this aspect of the interpretation untouched: in the Guglielmo scene Polli shows the side of such a “simple” girl which is often overlooked and underestimated: charming, smilingly seductive and naturally sweet, can be caring and wonderful partner, because for unicorns’ sake, you don’t love (or kiss, for that matter) a person with your sophisticated philosophy but with your heart – and Dorabella in this staging is not lacking one.

Third lady, and most ladylike of all, is Fiordiligi, here Klára Kolonits. This is a killer role, packed with uncomfortable phrases and jumps, which is often hated by sopranos for that, also because Fiordiligi is the most serious, the most “boring” character – at the first sight. Among the ladies, she is indeed the most complex and even more in this production. She can be youthfully sweet in the funnier scenes, but she is able to fall into insane tragicomical despair with subtly erotic hints when healing broken heart with compulsive drinking of hot chocolate (sort of mute mad-scene parody was that, competing seriously with Dorabella singing her furious aria and throwing objects here and there in the meantime). In her first aria Fiordiligi is not left alone even for a moment to concentrate on her singing (which seems not to be any problem at all, judging from the impeccable quality of said singing), especially when she is suddenly placed in a very Monty Python finale with a fan set into her face and dramatic white scarf, just as if she was a poet standing on a top of a mountain. In the contrast of these crazinesses she gets a lot of scenes next to or on the piano played by her husband, and these settings radiate a different, but very palpable energy which I personally loved. The top point of this was the second aria, very chamber-like, very intimate. Being an exquisite singer gifted with natural stage instincts Klára Kolonits is becoming a terrific actress which I feel is a place and time to say very clearly. The Fiordiligi was intelligent, sensitive and a bit lost, and for her the whole story meant – I think – the awakening of her true self, and of the fact that she doesn’t actually have to act as she thinks she is expected to.

 

Gentlemen.

Side note: it took me 4 performances (excluding all I saw before) but now I finally remember which of the two is Ferrando and which is Guglielmo! Also because here they were FINALLY completely different.

Guglielmo first, then, produced by Antal Cseh and his pleasant buffo baritone. Also this character was very lifelike: teddy bear kind of guy, a bit shy, a bit clumsy, a bit of slow thinker, with a strong, as if unintended, vis comica – but when he was getting serious, it had a touch of uneasy truthfulness. And probably because such a teddy bear usually sticks very much to his beliefs and rules, and Alfonso’s joke (?) put him definitely out of his fluffy comfort zone. He needs time to convince himself to follow Dorabella, feeling unfair – and when he himself gets cheated by Fiordiligi, falls into an uncontrolled anger. Kind of sad clown, kind of Canio, who probably will need time until he will trust someone again.

Ferrando was sung by Donát Varga, who first of all surprised me with wonderful vocal progress. Each and every of the four times I was truly enchanted by his beautiful, soft and bright, very belcanto tenor timbre, controlled better than ever and very expressive as well. The personality of Ferrando was very distinctively marked as a counterpart of Guglielmo: smiling, self-confident, smart, sincere and bright – a golden boy, who could be truly fitting partner for the transformed Fiordiligi. His Un’aura amorosa aria’s setting was probably intended as sarcastic parody of Michael Bublé (or other similar performer), he was supposed to sing a sweet, soft ballad sitting on a simple chair, interrupted by bored Guglielmo, who tries to satisfy his growling belly with sunflower seeds. But what Doni did with this aria outgrew the conception: he somehow reached the very essence of Mozart amante tenor, the true emotion and honest simplicity.

The most complex besides Fiordiligi is I think by default Alfonso, but in this production he was even more. Artúr Kálid in this role represented Mephisto and Philosopher at once, with some very, very dark and obscure corners. But the darkness (it may be strange after I wrote Mephisto but nevertheless) is not of evil kind. It emanates from Alfonso in his every movement, but gives an impression of a deep wound, that after having been partially – not completely – healed, created a protective black fog around him. It does not have any artificial explanation in the production, remains secret: but the kind of secret you would talk about only with some substantial amount of whisky. Vocally, Artúr is perfectly aware of not being opera singer and he actually makes use of it, singing a kind of Mozart-jazz with his slightly harsh yet very flexible baritone, jiggling very musically with rubatos and pauses. But the more important part was that every cell, every atom of his body is playing and expressing something through the whole opera. Every slightest tension of a smallest muscle is at the same time very conscious and very spontaneous, which in this combination is possible only with a huge amount of work and no less amount of intelligence. His eyes, his fingers, the angle of his body and directions of his steps – everything is important. And the thing I loved most (being witch, I beg you to pardon me this): this Alfonso contained at least thousands of souls. He was very old and very young, beautiful and ugly, wise and silly, kidding and painfully serious – and so on, every millisecond something different, with a striking richness and a feeling of completeness in this uneven tissue of the Alfonso’s very self. And for me Artúr is the biggest discovery of the season (ok, this is a spoiler of another post, but he deserves it).

This is ART. With capital letters.

As I said, I wasn’t convinced that this production should take place. After the premiere I felt as if I spent three hours under the wild storm in the middle of the sea. This is hilarious and overwhelmingly serious, strong and raw, and first of all: REAL. And it was a privilege to be there, to see this each of the four times. And I am really looking forward to see another two during Ördögkatlan and another couple of times in the next season. If anyone complains about people not going to opera because it is irrelevant to life – I will drag him by force to see this (after all there is always a pótszék if you smile nicely enough). And if you want modern: please, choose this instead of the infamous madhouse-alias-sanatorium productions. It will do you good.

GermanTrip II/II

with Nincs hozzászólás

…Cendrillon in Komische Oper and what it has in common with overpriced plane tickets and messed up airports.

Some time passed since the first part of this report saw the daylight, but being a full time witch one has to deal with least expectable circumstances on a daily basis. Anyway, let me begin with the last paragraph from the first post:
In the late morning I left for Berlin, on the way having acknowledged that Köln/Bonn is an absolutely pleasant, clean airport with WiFi, good coffee and reasonable prices. The Berlin part of my trip will follow in the next post shortly (which is now), featuring Cendrillon in Komische Oper, a brief memory of Rusalka I saw in 2009, as well as the most incredible travel of my several thousand years old life.

I found Schönefeld airport to be not too big but rather acceptable and clean. I headed to Bahn. I was already sitting inside, when I realised the ticket looks like it wanted to be validated. Just that there was no validating machine onboard, so in the last two minutes before departure I managed to jump off, find the device on the station and get the date printed on my ticket.
I have to admit, I sort of like Berlin, even if it’s the second time in my life I was visiting it and AGAIN Unter den Linden was a big mess just like in 2009 when I first attended Agnieszka’s performance in Komische Oper (Rusalka then) – and it was the first time we actually met (in this century) but the friendship was instant (well, Polish witches recognize each other quite immediately).
So then, Unter den Linden was “under construction” though it bore all signs of deconstruction when I arrived. I was instructed by Agnieszka how to reach the Home of Dragons and I found it without major problems (except for I was supposed to look for Ampelmann shop, and I had a minute of confusion when I was passing next to Dussmann (you know, for me it could have been Rossmann or Leiermann as well) but after all Dragons being magical creatures called me from their place so I got there quite quickly.
And again, I am going to rewind fast forward to the evening, for the witches time is witches time and not to be disclosed. However, before the show I had the chance to snap a couple of pictures as I always wanted, during the characterization. Zuzka, the makeup artist was wonderful and I enjoyed watching her work. I also enjoyed the incredible atmosphere of Komische Oper, where everyone from the cleaning lady up to Barrie Kosky greets each other with a broad smile, where languages swirl as quick as smiling faces (á propos, the face of Hungarian conductor when I started to speak Hungarian to him was priceless!).

Minutes before the show I met another fellow Polish witch Iwona, whom I spent the evening with – couldn’t have been better company, we were chatting as crazies all the time (and who knows me, knows that I am not necessarily a big talker in a new company). In the meantime I could not resist the temptation of snapping a selfie in the dressing room as I usually do in any theatre I happen to be in

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But well, why I need to write this post is not the difference between Ampelmann and Leiermann or listing names of the members of magical societies, neither is it the fact that I surprised Henrik with my Hungarian.

The reason is Cendrillon, which was breathtaking.

First and foremost, the staging was insanely good. From the first seconds up the the last. It is funny (plump Herren from the choir in romantic ballet tutus á la Cinderella’s dress from Disney’s movie…) and touching at the same time, beautifully, precisely done, well lighted, with wonderful costumes. The fairytale was moved to the ballet school, and I don’t want to spoil the details of the incredibly touching story. Please, PLEASE, everyone who can go and see this live. You won’t regret, I promise. From the title Cinderella (sweet and gracious Nadja Mchantaf), through Prince Charmant (precise, secure Karolina Gumos) and Madame de la Haltière (hilarious Agnieszka Zwierko, whom German press baptised as Mezzogranate some time ago and it was oh so precise) up to the silent role of Old Fairy (heart-wrenching and fragile Evelyn Gundlach), they were singing, dancing (Nadja en pointe!!!!!), playing wonderfully. I could write about my personal taste for timbres but this is not the case. The timbres were well chosen for the roles, they simply added a plus layer to the character. Everyone was simply great (and this is not a sponsored post :) ). I was laughing and crying at the same time.

Side note: it is so rare for me to love a production to bits: and this year it happened three times. First was Traviata of Nadine Duffaut (and it deserves a couple of lines as well, now that I have begun to write about the shows again, I will add them to my photo-post), second Cendrillon and third Così fan tutte (essay coming soon).

For more information see Komische site with pictures, full cast and press. I did not resist though, and I would like to present the trailer as well, which is surprisingly good and transmits the atmosphere of the show.

The afterparty was big and loud, though the witches know better and we migrated quite quickly to Komische Casino, the home of Flammkuchen and Veranza.

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Agniesia, Matt, myself and Iwonka

The wonderful evening lasted up to some very early hour of the following day, and so we made a discovery that metro in Berlin does not operate at such an insane time.

I could write: this is the end, next day I went home and this would be true. But just partially.
The original plan was, the bus to Tegel runs every couple of minutes so I go out at 10, I reach there in 30 minutes and then my flight departs at 12.15.
First, my phone decided it won’t charge during the night so I needed to try to charge it in the morning which was only partially successful but still I went out at 10.15. At the bus stop the crowd was gradually growing, and the bus did not appear neither on the table, neither in real life. It was about 10.55 when an American gentleman decided to take a cab to the airport and I decided to go with him. During all this waiting I double, triple, quadruple checked the departure time on the ticket but it was undoubtedly 12.15. We reached Tegel at about 11.20. And it was when I entered the terminal when I realized my flight departs at 12.15 – from Schönefeld.
I have no idea how did it happen, and the cab driver told me it might take at least 40 minutes to go there – well, if that was at least, I let it go. And I sat in the terminal, laughing as mad, because Holy Ravioli this is impossible. Still I needed to get home. I looked up an Airberlin flight for the afternoon which was the cheapest option (still, it was of course ridiculously expensive). I bought it, spent a couple of hours in the airport, met Agnieszka (again) who was travelling from the same airport (according to her original plan though). After a couple of hours, it was about 2 PM (flight departing at 5) I walked to the terminal to see where it is (unlimited internet may be found only in one coffee place, and there are 4 terminals). I looked at my e-pass to doublecheck the gate. And I scowled, produced an insane amount of courses in my head and sat down, laughing hysterically.
I bought plane ticket for Airberlin for 5 PM, from Tegel airport. This was all correct. FOR THE NEXT DAY.
I was sure, but completely sure, that this has to be a dream. It cannot be happening for REAL.
It was for real.
Being it of course the cheapest fare, I couldn’t change it nor cancel it. The only way to get home on the same day (and I really needed to) was to buy third ticket (which was possible because my Father decided not to let his insane daughter join the flock of Berlin courtesans and send a magical owl with a purse laced to her claws).
This might well be the end of story, if only my ticket was valid. For some reason its status was stuck on Unconfirmed and it took two or three visits at the info desk and a phone call (THANK YOU dear Lady at AirBerlin desk, Yaniz or something like this was your name, you were simply wonderful).
After I finally passed security control (thank you German airports that you don’t make me take off my shoes as it saves a lot of time) and checked in, I was sipping watery coffee and eating something marked focaccia which was everything except focaccia but was edible nevertheless, for the first time in the day, I felt overwhelmed. I felt I just don’t want it to be happening, that I just want to be home and someone to hug me. I resisted the urge to write my friends I love them and if the plane crashes for instance, the keys are with Francesco and please take care of my cats. Instead, I finished the watery coffee and started to write the first part of this story.
You know, witches sometimes feel strange things are going to happen and before I went to Germany I had this feeling. Do I regret? Hell no, it was a great time after all.

I learned though that sometimes you are super cautious and things happen, even the mistakes you are the only responsible for.

This is a difficult discovery for someone who regards herself as independent, organized perfectionist. But maybe it needed to happen: most probably it did. It took me a good while to digest this whole story, maybe also because of that I didn’t finish this article earlier. Anyway this was also the lesson Cinderella and Prince Charmant learn in Michieletto’s staging and I have to tell some meaningful counterpoint happened afterwards in my life as well. But this is again another completely different story.

GermanTrip I/II

with Nincs hozzászólás

…or Káťa Kabanová in Mönchengladbach and everything around it.

Having two friends singing premieres on two consecutive days in two German cities, and having promised them about two hundred and seventy four times “I definitely HAVE TO see you on stage (again) in the near future” it seemed like the best time. It was in theory, it was in the terms of their fantastic performances. But being generally an organised person I managed to make the most un-organised and uneconomical travel of my life.

To begin the main story with, I live in my beloved Hungary for 3 years and in a way I got used to this tiny country and tiny distances within cities. I made a discovery of at least another continent but rather a minor planet about a week before departure. The revelation that Mönchengladbach (where the premiere of Káťa Kabanová was) is about 600 kilometres away from Berlin (where the premiere of Cendrillon was). Who on Earth invented cities that far from each other within one country? (Hereby I would like to send a kiss to my American friends. Yes, I know you folks know something about distances. Sigh.)

When I awoke from my fever, delirium and disbelief which lasted about 47 seconds, and then consecutively had an insane laugh on myself being so incredibly smart, I started to google up the brooms, unicorns (hello Dana) and flying carpets. Unfortunately the German Witches, Sorceresses and Trollesses Association did not react to my numerous pleas (they must have some ambivalent feelings towards international witches transfer because of the immigrants I suppose: I am totally going to report it though, any discrimination is against the Codex Maior of Magical Creatures, article 62518, §7.4a). After having distributed some minor anathemas among the members of said association I fed my cats and proceeded to look for any of these dumb means of transport non-magical people use. I excluded carpooling I would normally choose first, as I don’t speak the language and it would be no fun to sit with Herr Wolfgang for six hours in silence. Next cheapest option was bus: another advantage was that this was a direct connection without changes. No witch with her common sense in its place would spend eight (8, nyolc, osiem, huit, Acht, otto!!!!) hours imprisoned in a bus though. Neither would I. There is always Bahn, I thought, but having acknowledged its fares I approached a heart attack which was surely prevented only by a magical bunch of Shakespearian curses that jól nevelt budai úrilány* would never ever think of. I actually yelled them out loud, but then only my cats heard and I’m sure their repertoire is way broader. And again yet, it was self-defence against the mentioned heart attack. In my last desperate attempt I checked my favourite but generally the least economical way of civilised people’s transportation. To my utmost surprise and delight, flight from Köln/Bonn to Berlin/Schönefeld, booked three (3, három, trzy…) days in advance, and including airport transfer, costed less than the cheapest Bahn (that included a change anyway). And was faster, of course. If I made my revelation concerning distances between German cities a while earlier, it would cost less than the bus. But this was only the first of if-s…

Considering the fact that Varázsotthon is located exactly on the opposite corner of Budapest than the airport, you may imagine I need a while to travel between the two. If I add an information that my flight departed at 6 AM, you may as well imagine the hour I had to leave the apartment. It was two and a half when I went to take down my clothes from the drying rack in the garden and at three (I won’t enumerate it again, no worries: but it was THREE) I locked the door. Probably a travel with four night buses on Friday pre-morning deserves separate story, but let me just quickly summarize the passengers’ list which consisted of:

  • Night workers from HÉV track
  • Asian and Romanian ladies going to market
  • Parade of human halfzombies who had just done their partying for the day
  • An úriember* enjoying gyros wrap with thousand islands sauce dripping all over the floor and úriember hands
  • A huge clochard-looking old man in huge old cowboy hat and his huge old dog, hopelessly struggling to tune his normal size but equally old guitar, all four (man, dog, guitar and hat) mild and tired after their night’s show on the streets of Philadelphia… fast backward, on the streets of Pest.
  • Some miserable early travellers like myself.

There were no particularly amusing or depressing (except for that damn hangar between the terminal and the machine, that they make wizzair passengers walk into and then again walk out to their plane, but this is a constant) events on the BUD airport, except maybe the queue to all coffee-serving places (most of them open already at 4.30), which could shamelessly compete with the lines in the book stores on the premiere days/nights of Harry Potter series. I laughed for a moment at the queue and directed my steps towards Szamos in order to sweeten up my sleepless existence at that pitiless hour with the only Ischler worth mentioning, which is theirs (exclusively the classic one with blackcurrant jam, coated with rich dark chocolate). My flight to Dortmund was not a memorable one either. My first impression on Dortmund airport was. Ladies and gentlemen, Dortmund made it to the top.

Of the blacklist, I mean. It surpassed even Forlì (and I thought it was a forever-winner in Worst European Airports competition). Its lack of basic cleanliness, decent coffee and free WiFi (there is free 30 minutes if you register for their newsletter but it took me 15 minutes to discover this, written in German on one poster) were main reasons, but the bus to Dortmund Hauptbanhof spiced the thing up as well. It departs every hour, the ticket price is absurd for such a small distance and the driver was so unimaginably rude, that really I decided to assign the infamous first place to this very airport. Dortmund Hbf was not much better, in the terms of cleanliness at least, but a friend guided me to a place serving internet, coffee and delicious bagels (order intended) while I was waiting for my train to Mönchengladbach. Let me fast-forward the story from Friday noon to the Saturday evening: no well behaved witch tells the secrets of witchery in a blog post, does she? Or after all, let it be, I admit: together with Iza we watched compilations of America’s Got Talent comedians. And we ate chocolate. Organic, though. Sugar-free. Raw. With pecan nuts. But it was chocolate. See, you got us on that.

After all, theatre is an ultimate form of witchery in its own way. When we entered in the late afternoon, we crossed the stage as well. There is no word in any human or magical language to describe what I feel, what any theatre person feels when the walls are all black with chalk-written notes and random papers hanging around, and the ceiling seems  infinite. And especially, when some of the black walls with chalk notes unravel a sacred space: floor bearing small indication marks (“Remember, you have to collapse on the blue cross!” – see Katia, I remember! I could totally jump-in sometime if someone else is willing to sing), more or less complete set mountained up on it, soaked with the enchanted dust dancing in the dim light. And empty seats, and silence, and Waiting.

I did a major part of my own waiting on the terrace of the Mönchengladbach Theater Kantine (kantine-s, művészbüfé-s and other venues of this genre is again a topic for a separate article). Afterwards I quickly met a gaze of a stranger sorceress, gave a “toitoitoiinboccaallupo” hug to Iza and transported myself to the auditorium, together with a pure-bred German unicorn in glitter heels (later changed for sneakers as it is not unicorns’ typical footwear, as I was instructed by her – I took notes to my catalogue of unicorns).

I am far from writing reviews, just a bunch of impressions, for I might be not the best person to write about Kaťa at all. I never counted Janaček into my favourite composers. The current German tastes in setting and staging are also slightly different than mine, just about like coca-cola is slightly different from champagne. It’s not even that I didn’t like it: I’ve seen way worse but also way better productions. It was quite correct, as were singers (some of them clearly had no idea what they are singing about though, not to mention the Slavic idiom and subtleties of soft Czech language which would add and extra depth that I missed) and the conductor. However, there was one piece of the puzzle that just didn’t fit.

Kaťa, or Izabela Matula singing, acting, or rather being Kaťa. Sensual and passionate, intense and unfitting into the society just like the singer stood away from the general “correctness”. She was just more. Like an impasto of oil paint put on greyish, over-detailed pencil drawing. More emotion, more voice, more inner glow of the dark, mysterious kind. Only thing lacking was a proper context, partners and staging on the same level she’s on. Which hopefully will all come in the very near future (for I promised her I will come to see her on stage again very soon but not in the same small town).

After the show we spent another dozen hours immersed in mint tea and the kind of never-ending conversation that happens mostly between witches knowing each other for a couple of hundreds of years but not seeing each other very often for the international broom transfer fares that are recently clearly insane and air planes… well, wait until I finish on that.

In the late morning I left for Berlin, on the way having acknowledged that Köln/Bonn is an absolutely pleasant, clean airport with WiFi, good coffee and reasonable prices. The Berlin part of my trip will follow in the next post shortly, featuring Cendrillon in Komische Oper, a brief memory of Rusalka I saw in 2009, as well as the most incredible travel of my several thousand years old life.

T.B.C.

*jól nevelt budai úrilány would mean well mannered noble miss from Buda, which is just partially true as I am living in Buda hills just for a year and I am not necessarily always well mannered, but let us not be that meticulous.

*úriember would be nobleman. Would be, because the guy was not, but I love this word and no one is telling a red Polish witch which words should she use.

Bookshelf #2

with Nincs hozzászólás

Another couple of recent mini-reviews I recently wrote at goodreads. The previous one containing All the light we cannot see, The Nightingale and A memory of violets can be found here.

This was yet another book when I got caught in time-travel, ships, historical fiction stuff… and overlooked the young adult genre. I was extremely annoyed by the flat and knowing-all-but-still-quite-stupid-and-naive main character Nix (I even had to think a while about what was her name again…), and her father, Slate, who has no strong trait of character, which is quite a problem if you are supposed to be a strong-charactered captain, if you ask me. The reason I suffered it through was the only character that rang true and it was Kashmir, he was literally stealing pages from under my fingertips: and still it was a long read. Not-so-perfectly written, hardly likeable characters (except for that cheeky Persian thief), and plot like overcooked spaghetti, which seems just fine but when you put it in mouth it’s just too soft and tasteless. Still 1,5/2 stars – for Kashmir and historical research.

Let me review both parts together, because I read them one after another and despite being about 2000 pages all together, it was an exciting lecture. The Pillars of the Earth or the first part took me… one day. It was a whole Sunday, but just one. Maybe if I say that 1000 pages about building a cathedral and another 1000 about building a bridge it won’t sound too exciting, but well, exciting it is. The historical research is impressive, but it does not give an impression of a dull historical book. It just supports a fantastic story spread through centuries, and gives a believable background to genuine, very human characters of all kinds: good and bad, beautiful and ugly, smart and stupid. In Pillars of the Earth I enjoyed the characters of Tom and Jack most, both men of a kind you won’t really meet nowadays, very different, but each one true and strong. In World without End my favourite was Petranilla with her wicked ideas and strategies and Thomas, the knight-monk. Both books feature some romances as well (especially the second one), but this is not the part that make the story go ahead. The eternal fight for power, for the good of the cathedral town, for money and for principles, woven with dramas of the ordinary people make it a wonderful, fantastically written journey.

 

“I don’t believe the greatest views in the world are great because they are vast or exotic,” she said. “I think their power comes from the knowledge that they do not change. You look at them and you know they have been the same for a thousand years.”
“And yet how suddenly they can become new again when you see them through someone else’s eyes,” he said. “The eyes of a new friend, for example.”

This was a charming little book about charming Major Pettigrew and equally charming Mrs. Ali. Maybe not bursting with originality, but wonderfully written piece of lecture with lively, endearing characters and some kind of heart-warming humanity. Sleepy English village with is little and big problems is not too unique or exciting set, but it’s described with such genuine colours that I felt like being actually there. Huge amount of fine humour, good observations of reality, stereotypes and their counterparts. Light, pleasant, but not silly read.

Bookshelf#1

with Nincs hozzászólás

Hereby I’d like to share the recent mini-reviews I recently wrote at goodreads – and I think it would be a series, as recently I read a lot and these are often relatively new books. I have quite a couple still to be reviewed – The Japanese Lover and Ilona Andrássy’s war diary for instance – but three of them are ready.

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I read quickly by default, but I this was finished in one day.
First pages were the least interesting part, but about 20. page I felt hypnotized and just could not put it down.
The characters ring very true which is probably the strongest part of this book – and the setting is very good as well. Story is exciting, really nicely written, and in my favourite historical fiction genre. The relationships are not obvious and pretty elaborated, the tension fluctuates and the ending is okay. I really liked the way the characters are constructed. They are real people, you love them and get angry with them, feel sorry for them and feel happy about they joys. And that applies to the main ones, for Vianne and Isabelle, but also for German soldier and Jewish boy, even American pilots you meet for a while, one page, one paragraph. Everyone is very human. Actually this is the reason that actually made me read it in one day, as I generally prefer literary characters to real world people – given that they ring true. The characters in Nightingale do.
I would not give it five stars because of some minot clichés and predictabilities. Overall I enjoyed it a lot though.

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This one is actually difficult to review. Extremely predictable – this is not my main problem with Memory of Violets though. The worst are flat characters and some improbable circumstances that would never ever happen back then. There are two pairs of sisters – Florrie and Rosie are true and likeable (yet personally I could not stand Irish accent in writing – and I love it spoken), but I felt bored by Tilly and Esther – so melodramatic and pale. Not to mention the romance part and very forced father’s letter. Oh, and I find the idea of naming almost each and every character after some flower quite ridiculous. Why do I still give it three stars? I liked the setting very very much and my soft spot is magical realism, I actually enjoyed the magic part. There were some secondary characters who sounded more real than main one, such as Queenie. Generally speaking it’s a wonderful idea for a book – but I had a feeling that Hazel Gaynor was slightly impatient to have it written – and what a pity.

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And the winner is… yes. I am one of the millions of people that loved this book.

A field of dying sunflowers. Hypnotizing Frenchman on the radio. Siege of Saint-Malo. A house – in the house. Town – in the town. Paris in Paris. Sound of wood carving and smell of cigarette, and sugar bowl in the middle of the table.
I started to read it because my friend told something like “I am reading a book and there is a blind girl and in my mind it is actually played by you”. I am not a blind girl, but I got curious. After the first two pages I was enchanted. First of all, I absolutely loved the way it is written. Second, though equally important, is the story – which is fantastic, unfolding like a flower, woven with many different threads that create complex and exciting fabric all together. Third, still equally important – the book is not crowded with characters, we have a handful of finely drawn main ones, all of which are made from flesh, blood and soul – and the others, that together with great setting create well balanced background.
Another great thing: the ending. Really, it was difficult to avoid cliché, and still Doerr did it. I truly recommend this book to anyone.

Amoebas and Mozart.

with Nincs hozzászólás

It was never easy with Mozart. I mean, everyone loves Mozart, how can you NOT love Mozart, you are musician, musicologist, human, amoeba, how dare you NOT love Mozart? Well that was the case for the most of my life. There were single pieces I sort of liked, like Requiem, but neither his operas, neither his instrumental works had greater effect on me.

Young Mozart: painting by Greuze
Young Mozart: painting by Greuze

Now I did not hesitate to put him among my favourites. Not because I love everything he wrote. It’s just a handful of pieces… that sort of change my life every time I listen to them. I put them together in a playlist. Instead of writing silly birthdayish post (I know you may read this stuff everywhere today), I’d rather write a couple of sentences about two of the featured videos – not because of my exhibitionism, but maybe to inspire some musician, human or amoeba WHY my attitude changed definitely since the times of “Mozart? Bleeeh…”: so that maybe you will find your own Mozart too. You are welcome to explore whole playlist. The order is casual. The interpretations are not (in some cases I needed to improvise as my favourite recording was not available on YouTube).

Opera

Klára Kolonits and Rainer Trost | Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Klára Kolonits and Rainer Trost | Die Entführung aus dem Serail

The reason for which I got to know a good part of Mozart music, operas in particular, was a singer who would interpret not a part, not an aria, but every single note – and an incredibly witty guy who would talk about this composer in such detail, with ardent passion and deep understanding. I actually begun to listen to Mozart and to think about his music, about every single note – because I understood, that really he wrote every each of them for a reason. There is a series called OperaLab (or Operabeavató in Hungarian) – a quite unique genre, sort of speaking concert, open rehearsal, stand-up comedy and what else. You may get an idea here and see an excerpt here. The first one I saw was about Don Giovanni: then some Entführung aus dem Serail and some Magic Flute was also featured in the Mozart series (I was also present when Verdi’s Traviata and Rigoletto, Rossini’s Barber of Seville or Offenbach’s Contes d’Hoffmann were discussed and performed). Right now, the slightly insane and extremely lovable OperaLab team (led by Dániel Dinyés and stage director Pál Göttinger) and is working on Cosí fan tutte throughout the whole year they keep those open rehearsals, and in June the whole opera will be performed. Maybe Mozart operas are still not my favourites, to be honest. But I never thought I would be able, for instance to sit through a Magic Flute in Hungarian about seven times in a row (and it was already second run, third one planned in May), with several good singers among the cast and – at times – good conductor, I would also enjoy it. And Entführung… I actually loved the first run in Erkel Theatre. I loved the Don Giovanni in December. At home I rarely listen to whole operas, let alone Mozart operas, that is still true. But I gladly sit at a good performance of any of them and I listen to selected pieces, Konstanze’s three arias, Fiordiligi’s second one, duet with Ferrando and first act’s Dorabella duet or tercettino, Pamina’s aria and final scene with Tamino, Sarastro’s arias, Don Giovanni excerpts, Sesto’s arias, Zaida’s one. But it’s not opera that I love in Mozart. C major or g minor symphonies, Clarinet concerto, some concert and sacred arias are in the top part of the list. Oh, and piano pieces occupy the first place, but they deserve a separate paragraph…

Piano

 

For a long time I did not like piano music to begin with. And Mozart piano music… nope. Then I discovered Artur Schnabel who instantly questioned everything I thought about piano music: and especially on Mozart compositions. For quite a while though I only listened to selected parts, to be precise to the middle parts, the melodious, slow cantilenas, as the A major concerto‘s Chopin-like Adagio or A major sonata‘s beginning (Edwin Fischer playing). I deliberately skipped all of the silly and noisy allegros. And then… it was at night in a car, on a highway, silence: just listening Artur Schnabel playing C major concerto, I think for the third time that day. After forever favourite A-major Adagio we skipped back to Allegro. And together with it, just like that, I understood the meaning of paths and curves of my life, decisions and consequences, and all became clear and understandable as C major key itself. Now, every time I need some internal peace, I go back to this piece. I listen to it while running, through all night when I cannot sleep, when I seek comfort and silence – and it always brings memories of that moment on the highway, when gazing in the front window, the road ahead, I kept silent for a long while, maybe a fourth instance of C major‘s Allegro, or maybe it was B major concerto already, until I managed to share this sudden revelation to someone without bursting in tears or hysterical laughter. And also this was a lesson.

Artur Schnabel
Artur Schnabel

Mozart unleashes emotions it seems, and in such a tricky way, that even the toughest parts get solved in a C major catharsis.

Un éclat du voix

with Nincs hozzászólás

I love dead people. No, but really. When I first heard Witold Lutosławski speaking on the radio, he was dead since about fifteen years. To understand his music I needed another couple of years but when I did, it was instant love, as it was with Witek himself.


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All the musicians should play as if they did not know what the others are playing, or at least as if they did not hear anything apart from their own performance. They must not worry that they are slower or faster than the others. This problem simply does not occur, as there are means at work that prevent any unwanted consequences of such freedom. If all the performers strictly adhere to the instructions included in their written parts, there cannot appear anything that the composer had not foreseen.

Witold Lutosławski

One of the most common expressions when it comes to describe music of Lutosławski (actually invented by himself) is controlled aleatorism. For those of you who are less of music theory geeks, think aleatorism as pure chance in music, a huge ad libitum: this is the piece and play it as you wish. Controlled aleatorism means giving some freedom to performers (one or more voices in the score) within certain limits: this is the melody, I won’t write exactly how do I imagine that part, but you better do it as if you were reading my thoughts. As an example I will give his String Quartet: he only wrote the parts, distributed them among the four performers and categorically refused to putting them together in one score:

if I wrote a standard score, mechanically transferring all the individual parts into it, I would be misleading you, offering a false image of my composition – it would simply be a score for a different work. For example, it would suggest that the notes appearing vertically in the same position should be played simultaneously, which contradicts my intentions. It would deprive the work of its ‘mobile’ character, which is one of its most important traits.

Witold Lutosławski

The LaSalle Quartet, for their part, refused to play it without an overview on maestro’s general idea – who, being as elegant and well mannered as he was stubborn, kept insisting that the complete score does not exist. As you may imagine, this is the moment when – according to Polish proverb – where the Devil cannot go himself, he sends a woman.

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Danuta Lutosławska, sister of Polish author Stanisław Dygat, was great love of Lutosławski. They married in 1946, once she divorced architect Jan Bogusławski. She was not a musician, but insisted on personally copying all of her husband’s scores. She even said, that it would have been be worse than betrayal for her, if Witek would decide to delegate this task to someone else. When LaSalle Quartet questioned the lack of traditional score of the String Quartet, she was the one who copied everything once again and using scissors and glue prepared the approximate score that she sent to the ensemble’s first violinist, Walter Levin. Witold just pretended he didn’t know. Of course he did.

Danuta managed all of her husband’s professional life, was his passionate lover and most precise assistant. They were one. She told to a friend, Krzysztof Jakowicz: You know, I decided I have to live longer than him, because he needs me. Witek, for his part, kept saying he would be nothing without her, never delegated the score-copying or any other task, that could be completed by Danuta and that she was willing to do, to anyone else – and always chose dresses for her. They were indispensable for each other, breathing the same air and speaking the same language, even reading books together.

After Witold Lutosławski’s death in February 1994, Krzysztof Jakowicz called Danuta, but she put down the phone. He called again, only to hear: “Don’t call me please. I am not here any more.”

Two months later, having put in excellent order all husband’s papers and letters – except the ones between two of them, that she destroyed – she stepped through the door. Witek was waiting for her.

Happy 113th birdthay, Witek.

Paroles tissées – Les espaces du sommeil

First piece of the above three was composed in 1965 and first performed by tenor Peter Pears. The lyrics are taken from a monumental, four part poem by Jean-Francois Chaubrun: Quatre tapisseries pour la châtelaine de Vergi. Being aware it’s not the most promotion-ready title possible, Lutosławski – as always, respectfully – asked the poet to choose one for his composition (he could have named it Bang bang and no one would said a word, since it was separate piece… but it’s exactly why did I fell in love with him, posthumously. The old-fashioned elegance). Chaubrun proposed two variants out of which the composer chose Paroles tissées, which could be a nice title for all his vocal-instrumental output anyway: think how precise, how meaningful is the expression “woven words”.

 

Ten years later Les espaces du sommeil was premiered in Berlin Philharmonic with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing baritone part. Again yet, as with Paroles tissées, Lutosławski wrote the piece specifically for the singer and both of them are dedicated to their first performers. And again the Robert Desnos three part poem has sort of woven structure, which is mirrored in the musical layer as well. The composer initially classified his work as symphonic poem with baritone solo (and definitely not song cycle, nor a single song), but later when he realised the connotations with the genre so passionately loved by Liszt and Richard Strauss, he didn’t stick with this category any more. In Les espaces… one interesting thing is the fact, that it contains two lyrical subjects, one of them being the orchestra, that not only accompanies, but also colours and comments the – mainly syllabic – vocal part.

 

These two remain my favourite Lutosławski compositions. Generally speaking, his vocal works tend to be less complicated formally, because he was working very closely with the singers and asking them continuously to verify if the vocal line remains comfortable. Woven from such threads as well constructed dramatic tension, immense melodious invention and rich orchestral colours, both pieces say a lot not only about Lutosławski’s musical world but also about himself. Elegant and old-fashioned, gentleman in all meanings, insisting on being called simply Witek by anyone he worked with, all members of all the orchestras and more or less anyone he met – and it was not about respect or lack of it, it was just him. Incredibly intelligent and kind, but also stubborn and hard-working perfectionist. What he hated profoundly, yet treated with most distinct elegance, was lack of professionalism and ignorance. I am just wondering where did all these virtues go, as they are exceptionally rare nowadays – but I don’t want to be unjust, there are people who still behave like this, and I am lucky enough to know a couple of them.

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