Budapest © Karelj
Budapest
© Karelj
Straddling the Danube in central Hungary, Budapest has much to offer the cultural tourist. Perhaps the best time to visit is in April, where you’ll find the Budapest Spring Festival in full swing. Venues old and the new jostle happily together. From the splendid opulence of the 130 year old Opera House to the austere architecture of the Erkel Theatre to the magnificent Palace of Arts (known as “Müpa”, from the Hungarian “Művészetek Palotája”), there is a huge variety of events on offer.
Aida © Hungarian State Opera | Attila Nagy
Aida
© Hungarian State Opera | Attila Nagy

The 35th Spring Festival has a packed programme which covers many of the arts: jazz, pop, dance, circus, world music and theatre. The classical and opera programmes share a rich diversity, with many eye-catching highlights, featuring the best Hungarian performers with a liberal sprinkling of international stars.

On the operatic front, Verdi is well represented. The forces of the Hungarian State Opera present János Mohácsi’s production of Aida at the Erkel Theatre, with a home-grown cast bolstered by Italian tenor Fabio Sartori as Radamès. Gergely Kesselyák conducts.

Veteran Italian baritone Leo Nucci gives a recital of Verdi arias and the festival closes with a semi-staged performance of Luisa Miller with Daniele Rustioni and the Teatro di San Carlo. Romanian-Swiss soprano Elena Moşuc takes on the title role of Luisa, in love with Count Walther’s son, Rodolfo. Nino Surguladze sings Federica, the duchess who vies for Rodolfo’s affections.

Erkel Theatre © Csibi Szilvia
Erkel Theatre
© Csibi Szilvia
Hasse’s opera Siroe, re di Persia has been on a high profile European tour in recent months. Visitors to Budapest can hear it at the Vigszínház, conducted by George Petrou and with a cast led by rising star countertenor Max Emanuel Cenčić.

Hungarian orchestras feature strongly. The Hungarian National Philharmonic is joined by young Russian pianist Denis Matsuev for Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor, while the Budapest Philharmonic provides support for star Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča in a sumptuous programme of French and Russian arias.

Elīna Garanča © Paul Schimhofer | DG
Elīna Garanča
© Paul Schimhofer | DG

 

The Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra under János Rolla have been part of the orchestral landscape in Budapest for decades. Their programme covers Haydn (who wrote much of his music for the Esterházy Palace, now just inside Austria) and – more unusually – Nino Rota, whose Cello Concerto is a concert rarity.

Among the orchestral guests are the Philharmonia and Vladimir Ashkenazy, helping to mark Sibelius’ 150th anniversary, and the Bavarian State Orchestra and Kirill Petrenko. The conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra from New York also appear, bringing Copland’s Quiet City alongside Wagner, Schubert and Haydn.

On a smaller scale, there are piano recitals and chamber music to enjoy. Erika Naganuma and János Balázs both perform piano recitals, which are both rich in Liszt, while Alex Szilasi focuses on Chopin, played on Pleyel pianos.

It is 100 years since the death of Hungarian composer Karl Goldmark and is remembered this festival season in a programme of his chamber music given by Károly Mocsári and the Attitude Quartet, which includes his gorgeous Piano Quintet.

Vigado stairway © David Karlin
Vigado stairway
© David Karlin
A visit to ‘the Pearl of the Danube’ wouldn’t be complete with some traditional Hungarian fare. Cimbalom duo Kálmán Balogh and Miklós Lukács present their infectious brand of folk-inspired music reflected through a jazzy, contemporary lens at the Pesti Vigadó. Along with the gypsy violin, the cimbalom is the quintessential Hungarian instrument, a hammered dulcimer played by striking two mallets against the strings.

Other folk-inspired concerts feature a joint venture by percussion quartet Amadinda and Hungarian folk group Muzsikás, active for over 40 years as an ensemble. Away from Hungary, you can hear an evening of Portuguese fado from Ana Moura and Tunisian-born Dhafer Youssef – oud virtuoso – perform Birds Requiem with his quintet.

From Hungarian roots to international stars, the Budapest Spring Festival has plenty to offer, all set within one of Europe’s most welcoming capital cities.  

For our insider’s guide to Müpa, click here.

For more information, visit our guide to Culture in Budapest.

Visit the Budapest Spring Festival website here

 

This article is sponsored by the Hungarian Tourist Board.