There’s no doubting the big opera date in Budapest next season: on 18th May 2019, the Opera House on Andrássy Avenue opens its doors for the first time since its recent refurbishment (well, the second – you can get a sneak preview at the dress rehearsal the evening before). Gabriella Létay Kiss sings the ill fated heroine of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in a new production by Máté Szabó; the infatuated Des Grieux is sung by the versatile, smooth-voiced tenor Gergely Boncsér, who is appearing in no less than nine productions in the season.

La Bohème © Attila Juhász
La Bohème
© Attila Juhász

Manon Lescaut is part of a big focus on Puccini, with performances of all twelve of his operas as well as the Messa di Gloria. In the space of a fortnight in May and early June, dubbed the “PucciniFeszt”, Puccini junkies can thoroughly overdose on their habit: as well as the familiar popular works, there will be a rare chance to see his first stage work: the opera-ballet Le Villi. Even Edgar – with which, after several failed rewrites, Puccini himself became disenchanted to the point of writing rude remarks on the score – gets a run of three performances at Eiffel Art Studios. La rondine, another less performed Puccini opera and the only one that could be described as “gentle”, gets a new production by Ferenc Anger.

The Hungarian State Opera’s stagings of Puccini offer a variety of styles. Viktor Nagy’s Tosca is unashamedly old school, meticulously following the instructions in the libretto. Balázs Kovalik’s “glossy” Turandot was described by Bachtrack’s Jenny Camilleri as “a happy medium between drastic re-imaginings of opera plots and literal stagings that follow every comma in the libretto”. For La bohème, the company has decided to keep both styles going simultaneously: Kálmán Nádasdy's 79-year-old “oldie-but-goldie” is still highly popular, but if you’re in Budapest, you’ll be seeing Damiano Michieletto’s 2012 re-interpretation, labelled La bohème 2.0, a worthy reminder that sick, vulnerable people dying in a cold winter isn’t a historical event that died out with the Edwardian era.

Andrea Chénier © Zsófia Pályi
Andrea Chénier
© Zsófia Pályi

Puccini is also being set into the context of his verismo contemporaries, with a new production of Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, also directed by Anger. “The other Bohème” – by Ruggero Leoncavallo – gets a concert performance on December 17th. Giordano’s Andrea Chénier gets two performances in June.

In a similar context to Opéra National de Paris, the company runs two houses in Budapest: the traditional house on Andrássy Avenue is complemented by the newer Erkel Theatre. The Erkel has remained open throughout the refurbishment process, hosting performances just about every day (and often twice daily), including opera, dance and 34 performances of Billy Elliot – The Musical. But the closure of the main house has raised the question of what to do with all that spare capacity, to which the answer has been “go on tour”. This will include far-flung locations from New York to Taegu, South Korea, but also includes nearly 30 cities in Hungary and a few in neighbouring countries. All of Tosca, Turandot and La bohème will be touring, mainly in concert versions, for obvious reasons of the difficulty of transporting sets. The New York tour should be a big profile-raiser for the company, giving US audiences the chance to become familiar with Hungarian works like Ferenc Erkel’s Bánk Bán (Erkel is revered as the founder of Hungarian opera, but isn’t so well known outside his homeland), rarities like Karol Goldmark’s The Queen of Sheba as well as singers like Ildiko Komlôsi and Judit Németh and a taste of the Hungarian National Ballet’s prowess with Swan Lake, Don Quixote and a Hans van Manen triple bill.

Carmen © Attila Nágy
Carmen
© Attila Nágy

Nearer home, there are four productions at Budapest’s Müpa: Hungarian National Ballet performs a double bill of Hans van Manen and Robert North, in September and a triple bill including William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, set to Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, in October, both at the Festival Theatre. The State Opera gives two performances in January at the Béla Bartók Concert Hall: The Queen of Sheba and Simon Boccanegra.

In Budapest itself, the opera season kicks off on 1st December with a new Vasily Barkhatov production of La fanciulla del West, running concurrently with the classic Nádasdy Bohème.

Ariadne auf Naxos © Péter Rákossy
Ariadne auf Naxos
© Péter Rákossy

Three new productions are at the Eiffel Art Studios. Mozart’s L’oca del Cairo was intended as a follow-up to Die Entführung aus dem Serail but was never finished: in a project dear to the heart of General Director Szilveszter Ókovács, the extant 45 minutes of music have been lovingly patched together with other material into a “pasticcio”. March sees a double bill of Hungarian works based on important literary classics: Jenő Kenessey’s mid 20th-century Gold and the Woman and a world première of Péter Tóth’s The Tót Family. From the other end of operatic history, Kriszta Székely takes on Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea in June.

One of the obvious features of Hungarian State Opera is that it operates a repertory system: it’s a tightly knit company with many versatile singers who are able to stage a large number of productions in a season, ranging from just one or two performances to, in the case of popular favourite Háry János, Kodály’s hilarious romp about the legendary teller of tall tales, 22 performances in a triple-cast run. It means that apart from August, visitors to Budapest can maintain a steady diet of opera through the year: with next season’s Puccini glut augmented by Verdi, Mozart, Strauss, Goldmark, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Donizetti, Ponchielli, Bizet, Gershwin, Purcell, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano, as well as Hungarian composers Kodály, Erkel, Kenessey, Tóth and Kacsóh, opera lovers aren’t going to go hungry.

Háry János © Szilvia Csibi
Háry János
© Szilvia Csibi