“I’m sorry that you have my recordings of the Haydn symphonies!” Ádám Fischer offers his sympathies and chuckles. He recorded the entire cycle with the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra for Nimbus. The resulting 33-disc set nestles on my shelves. “I don’t like the first 40 or 50 we recorded in the 1990s,” he explains. “I would do them differently today, but of course if you have a project over 16 years, you can’t have the same style.”

Fischer has an enviable reputation as a Haydn conductor and on 1st January 2016 will conduct The Creation at Müpa Budapest, a tradition started in 2008 (interrupted only by The Seasons in 2013 and 2014). Why? “This is the best piece for a New Year’s Day concert in the whole repertoire. It is about a new creation and a new world arising – and this is a story which can reach out to everybody.”

His approach to Haydn’s music has grown over the decades from those recordings of the symphonies. “Interpreters now have much more freedom. Haydn contains a lot of drama and jokes, which we have a special responsibility to show. If you play Haydn according to ‘the rules’, this is the worst thing that can happen because it gets boring. His music is so full of surprises and dramatic changes – you have to show them and not hide them. You have to understand Haydn’s music and to make it your own.”

For The Creation, Fischer uses an orchestra on the small side (10 first violins, 8 seconds) although this varies according to the size of the chorus. “This year,” he enthuses, “we’re using the chorus of the Wiener Staatsoper. I know the Staatsoper people very well because I conduct much opera in Vienna, and I know they’re ambitious, but they aren’t often given opportunities to sing oratorios like The Creation. It is something new for them.”

The great choral explosion ‘Let there be light!’ resounding through Müpa Budapest sounds a perfect way of starting a new year. “Exactly! New light and let’s start afresh!”

Müpa’s superb acoustics also makes it perfect for Wagner. Indeed, the building of the hall is connected to Fischer’s inauguration of an annual “Wagner in Budapest” festival there. “It was a very funny story at the beginning,” he relates. The architect of Müpa is a Wagnerian friend, who used to come every summer to Bayreuth. We had met there after a few performances and he told me that I should look at the plans for Müpa. I saw these three levels of balconies on the stage and I said, ‘Oh, that is exactly what Wagner wanted for Parsifal.’ I said that I’d like to perform Parsifal in the new hall, because it would sound much better than in any opera house in the world. And he said ‘I’ll build a concert hall for you, if you build a Wagner festival for me!’”

The 2016 festival sees a Ring cycle over four consecutive evenings, just as Wagner intended, and a performance of Die Meistersinger. “The acoustics are also much better than in a normal opera house. I’ve conducted Wagner in Bayreuth, I’ve conducted Wagner in other opera houses, such as Munich and I’m going to do The Ring in Vienna in January. As a conductor, you have to use all the possibilities available. If I conducted The Ring the same way in Vienna as I do at Müpa, it would not be good. I can show more of the different colours in Budapest because it is much more intimate.”

Fischer’s idea of staging The Ring in the concert hall has developed over the years. “We’ve tried different possibilities. We have the same ideology as Bayreuth in that you have to keep what is right and you have to change what is wrong. We started to call it semi-staged but that is not correct – it is minimalistic, but a full staging. Here, I can show Wagner differently. The singers are much closer to the audience than at the Metropolitan Opera, for instance, so you can see much more of their small movements and gestures.”

In The Flying Dutchman, which was staged last summer (which Bachtrack reviewed), the singers had a lot of physical acting to do, even climbing Balázs Kovalik's five metre high set, while in Parsifal, movement was minimal. With The Ring, which David Karlin reviewed in 2014, Fischer explains that the production is on the minimalistic side. “It is like the difference between acting on a stage and acting in a movie. We know from the early movies that the actors were doing far too much, because they were used to the stage and not to the camera. Singing Wagner in Müpa is like singing for the camera rather than for the stage!”

It is a different experience for the audience too. “They are so close to the stage, that they are a part of the theatre. The singers can hear the orchestra much better and vice versa, and you can hear the different instruments clearly. I can show much more of the chamber music side of Wagner and I discovered for myself how often Wagner uses the chamber music character, and how often it is lost elsewhere.”

Fischer certainly covers a wide range of music in Budapest, stretching from the dawn of Creation to the end of the world in Götterdämmerung within a few months. Casting has yet to be finalized, but currently Budapest has two Brünnhildes listed for the cycle: Elisabet Strid and Evelyn Herlitzius. “In this production, we make a virtue out of necessity because we need two different Brunnhildes to do the cycle in four successive nights, and two different Siegfrieds – so we literally make a new person out of the characters!” 


This article was sponsored by Müpa Budapest.