It looks like 2022-23 is going to be a bumper year for opera seasons, as the world’s opera houses plan to catch up with all their works that were interrupted by Covid-19. That’s certainly the case for Hungarian State Opera, with the additional factor of a new set of venues: the Eiffel Art Studios complex opened in mid-pandemic in October 2021 and the magnificently restored State Opera House will be open for the whole season after its recent re-opening. With these two venues now available, the Erkel Theatre, the site of most productions of recent years, is no longer used for main performances as it awaits its own refurbishment.

Hungarian State Opera House
© Attila Nágy

The season has been given a moniker of “Myth and History” and the most eye-catching opera falls squarely into the “History” category: the arrival in Hungary of Calixto Bieito’s new production of Prokofiev’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s Napoleonic War epic War and Peace. Bieito rarely fails to challenge the norms: rather than the usual sweeping panorama, his War and Peace has an intimate feel with the 13 tableaux based on a single set. It caused a stir with the critics at its first outing in Geneva: the Budapest audience will get the chance to form its own view. More recent and more specifically Hungarian history is presented in one of the season’s two world premieres, Iván Madarász’s The Fifth Seal, based on the screenplay of a famous 1976 film depicting events in 1944 Hungary. A more fanciful view of Hungarian history comes in the shape of Pongrác Kacsóh’s János Vitéz (John the Valiant), based on Sándor Petőfi’s 1844 epic poem about the adventures of a young shepherd who leaves his home to defeat the Turks, not to mention giants, witches and other folkloric enemies. Máté Szabó’s new production honours Petőfi’s 200th anniversary. There are still more slices of Hungarian history in the shape of Ferenc Erkel’s Bánk Bán, a rarity outside Hungary for reasons that aren’t clear, since our reviewers have described it as “remarkably captivating”, “rousing” and having “a big heart and generous melodies”, Erkel's “national treasure” Hunyadi László and Levente Szörényi’s rock opera Stephen the King, re-orchestrated into fully symphonic form in 2020.

Hunyadi Lászlo
© János Kummer

For myth, look no further than Wagner’s Ring. The tetralogy is a frequent visitor to Budapest, but generally only in concert form. In November, it will be possible to see all four operas fully staged at the State Opera House in the visually striking productions by Géza M Toth that have been coming out one at a time for the last few years. Wagner fans also get three performances of what will be the second outing András Almási-Toth’s staging of Parsifal, starting appropriately on Good Friday; Easter Saturday sees Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana paired with his less frequently heard Messa di Gloria; there are also Eastertide performances of Mendelssohn’s arrangement of the Bach St Matthew Passion both at the Eiffel Studios and the State Opera, as well as a series of Bach cantatas by choirs from around Hungary. The season’s other world premiere is what promises to be a highly unusual take on another Christian theme: György Selmeczi’s Artaban tells a story of the fourth Wise Man (the wisest of all, but who missed the meeting with the others) in a production which involves blindfolding the audience for “the duration of the séance” to sharpen their other senses. Greek myths are represented by new productions of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Mozart’s Idomeneo.

Hungarian State Opera has an extensive set of repertoire productions. Since they are staging a total of 340 opera productions next season and they usually do no more than half a dozen performances in a run, you do get a lot of choice. In the past, we’ve particularly enjoyed Hungarian operas like Dohnányi’s Der Tenor and Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, but also standard Verdi fare like Don Carlo and a fascinating new production of Philip Glass’s Les Enfants terribles, which “unfolds at an an infernal tempo: the hour and a half of the show passes by in an instant”, according to our reviewer Suzanne Lay-Canessa.

Hungarian State Opera House at night
© Attila Nágy

The company uses mainly Hungarian singers; we might not see many of them in other houses, but there are many stars who impress us regularly. Amongst them, look out for soprano Klára Kolonits (“mastery of coloratura to effortless changes in pitch and breath control”), who takes on the arduous task of singing all four heroines in The Tales of Hoffmann, the excellent basses András Palerdi and Krisztián Cser, or mezzo Ildikó Kómlosi, who also gets the distinction of a solo recital alongside several international stars, including Ildar Abdrazakov, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Olga Peretyatko.

Amongst its 15 dance shows, the Hungarian National Ballet is offering three new productions. The Pygmalion Effect, choreographed by Boris Eifman to music mostly by Johann Strauss II, will be performed in Hungary for the first time in June 2023. Look out for the “beautifully tender and delicate” last dance, set to the Adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23. The other two new productions are of fairytale ballets by Béla Bartók. The Wooden Prince, Bartók’s first ballet, is very much in the high Romantic tradition, in which a capricious fairy first prevents a prince from reaching his beloved but eventually takes pity on him. The more famous The Miraculous Mandarin is a far darker tale, obsessive and heavily sexualised, which prompted some of its composer’s most spectacular music. The two are presented in diptych or triptych form, together with the opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.

Those looking for more standard classics will be happy with any of Mayerling, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake or Don Quixote. If, however, you are more interested in sampling a variety of modern choreographers, head for “Dancingly Yours” at the Eiffel in late April and early May, which comprises two works by Jiří Kylián and one each by Wayne McGregor and Alexander Ekman. Later in May, there is an intriguing opera/ballet evening which pairs Monteverdi’s “Operatic scena” Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda with the ironic machismo of Robert North’s Troy Game, presented either in its original form or danced entirely by women in Hungarian National Ballet’s version entitled Troy Game – with Amazons.

With over 500 shows in two newly restored venues between September and July, you’ll find something worth seeing in Budapest whenever you choose to visit.

You can see full listings for the 2022-23 season here.
This preview was sponsored by Hungarian State Opera.

[Editor's note: Please note that since this preview was written, some events in the Hungarian State Opera's new season taking place at the Eiffel Art Studios have been cancelled.]