For its 40th jubilee, the Budapest Spring Festival returns to its roots to celebrate home-grown artists and composers, including the Hungarian premiere of György Kurtág’s only opera Fin de partie. By involving the leading cultural institutions of Budapest, it truly is a festival close to the city’s heart.

A masterpiece of Romantic ballet, Giselle’s ethereal story captivates audiences and dancers alike. Having died of a broken heart, the spirit of Giselle joins the Wilis, a clan of ghostly maidens betrayed by their lovers who haunt the forest at night and force their victims to dance until they die of exhaustion. Only by forgiving her earthly lover, Albrecht, can Giselle return to her grave and rest in peace. The opening performance of this year’s festival sees the mystical ballet set to new music (Félix Lejkó) and choreography (László Velekei), performed by the Ballet Company of Győr.

Müpa Budapest
© Tamás Réthey-Prikkel
“Just as Salzburg has Mozart, Budapest is extremely proud to have Liszt,” Csaba Káel, CEO of Müpa and chair of the executive board organising the festival, enthuses. With this year’s performance of Liszt’s long “lost” opera Sardanapalo, the festival once more lives up to its mission to, year by year, spread the oeuvre of the Hungarian music genius. Scholars are puzzled why Liszt decided to abandon his drafts of what would have become his only large-scale Italian opera after spending nearly seven years on it. One theory is based on problems he had with the libretto – it is loosely based on Lord Byron’s historical tragedy Sardanapalus about the fall of the Assyrian monarchy – and, most of all, his librettist: the first, Félicien Mallefille, missed various deadlines before Liszt ended the collaboration; the second, an unnamed Italian poet, was under house arrest in Paris at the time, prompting Liszt to send his assistant to the French capital with the words “Bring me back, dead or alive, a poem in his pocket”. Liszt received the libretto for Act 1 on New Year’s Day 1847, 18 months later the text for Acts 2 and 3, and although he was waiting for the librettist to revise parts of Acts 2 and 3, he finally began composing Act 1 in 1849. Another possible reason for Liszt to abandon his work on the opera may have been his worries that – after reading Wagner’s Opera and Drama – it might seem dated. 170 years later, David Trippett, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Music at the University of Cambridge, brought the opera to life for the very first time by reconstructing the fragments. In 2018 a critical edition was published, followed by its first recording with the Staatskapelle Weimar and Kirill Karabits who bring this rough diamond to Budapest in April.

György Kurtág is one of today’s Hungarian musical geniuses. Described as the “perfect symbiosis of words and music”, his 2018 (and only) opera Fin de partie unites classical music avant-garde with the Theatre of the Absurd. It is based on Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame about the imminent end of the world – or has it already happened? Pierre Audi’s lucid world premiere co-production from Milan and Amsterdam, including the same first-class cast, is, without a doubt, one of the hottest irons in the festival’s fire. Ironically, it is performed on Good Friday.

Opera lovers get their money’s worth with two recitals with the stellar Kristine Opolais and Lawrence Brownlee. While Opolais brings to the stage her most beloved heroines (Tosca, Manon, Cio-Cio-san), Brownlee showcases a programme of romantic bel canto from Rossini to Donizetti and Bellini.

One week before Easter, Collegium Vocale Gent and Philippe Herreweghe set the spiritual scene with Bach’s St Matthew Passion at the Grand Hall of the Liszt Academy. Joined by Julian Prégardien as Evangelist and Thomas E. Bauer as Jesus it will be an inspiring interpretation by one of today’s leading Baroque ensembles. For more Baroque bliss visit Handel’s oratorio La resurrezione with Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra at the Béla Bartók Concert Hall.

Last, but not least, there is one composer that cannot be missing from any 2020 season or festival programme: Ludwig van Beethoven. And to celebrate the German composer’s 250th birthday, the Budapest Spring Festival has more than just one string to their bow. The Korean pianist Ji-Yong (Ji) Kim returns to the Liszt Academy after a captivating interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations last year. This time, he treats the audience to Beethoven’s Moonlight and Tempest Sonatas, followed by the Eroica Variations. The Accord Quartet explores Beethoven’s string quartets, while Ernő Kállai and János Balázs devote their programme to the Violin Sonatas. Although you can hear Zoltán Hamar conduct a classic performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, you can also opt for a slightly more unconventional evening with arrangements for piano, double bass and drums by the Hungarian pianist and composer Péter Sárik.

Click here for full festival listings and booking links.

This article was sponsored by Wavemaker Hungary.