…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.
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.
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.