Europe’s opera houses are gradually re-emerging from their Covid-induced dormancy with the return of real audiences. Productions that had to be postponed or were streamed online from empty houses are being rescheduled and some semblance of “normality” is resuming. Including seven productions that had to be postponed, the Hungarian State Opera presents 17 premieres in its 138th season, mounting 400 opera and dance performances plus a plethora of concerts, recitals and multimedia activities. 

The Hungarian State Opera has three venues: the renovated Opera House on Andrássy Avenue, which will finally reopen to the public in the spring of 2022; the Erkel Theatre (which has a larger capacity than the main house); and the new season sees the oft-postponed official opening of the Eiffel Art Studios, a studio and rehearsal centre, including the Miklós Bánffy Stage, on the site of a former railway engineering works. 

Eiffel Art Studios
© Attila Nagy

The autumn season sees seven opera, dance and theatre premieres. Calixto Bieito’s production of Carmen has travelled the globe for two decades. Originally conceived for the 1999 Festival de Peralada, it makes its Hungarian debut at the Bánffy Stage in September. Bieito moves the action of the opera to the post-Franco era, but it could be argued that, in spirit, it is closer to Prosper Mérimée’s novella on which Bizet’s opera is based than many traditional stagings which present the usual “picture postcard” vision of Seville. 

Have you ever known a Pope as a dramatist? The Erkel Theatre is situated next to Pope John Paul II Square. In his pre-Pope days, Karol Józef Wojtyła had close ties to the theatrical world. The Jeweller’s Shop, his 1960 “dialogue in verse”, is presented by director János Szikora in a new production which uses choral and chamber music by Wojtyła’s friend, the late composer Krzysztof Penderecki, as accompaniment for the actors. 

There’s more theatre with a semi-staged double bill in September... this time with incidental music written by Ludwig van Beethoven specifically for the plays concerned. There are Hungarian links to both: König Stephan is King Stephen I, founder of the Kingdom of Hungary; and the score for The Ruins of Athens was composed to accompany August von Kotzebue’s play for the dedication of a new theatre at Pest in 1811. Richard Strauss and his faithful librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal reworked the score in 1924 and it’s their version which is presented on the Bánffy Stage. 

Hungarian National Ballet expands its contemporary repertoire this autumn, presenting Wayne McGregor’s 2006 creation Chroma (set to Joby Talbot arrangement of The White Stripes) for the first time. It opens a triple bill that also includes Sheron Eyal and Gai Behar’s Bedroom Folk and Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31. HNB’s Fresh Impulses programme is another triple bill which also includes a new work to the Hungarian stage, Sol Léon and Paul Lightfoot’s work Sad Case, set to Mexican mambo music. 

The Opera House
© Peter Herman

Dance is also a genuine partner to opera in Philip Glass’ Les Enfants terribles. A ballet-opera based on a story by Jean Cocteau, it tells the story of Paul and Elisabeth, two Parisian children who become prisoners in their own imaginary world. Singers and dancers share the stage in this work, set to Glass’ hypnotic score for four voices and three pianos, in a production by director and choreographer Dóra Barta. 

Jacques Offenbach was most famous during his lifetime as a composer of frothy French operettas, but his most renowned work – The Tales of Hoffmann – is his one attempt (unfinished at the time of his death) at grand opera. Inspired by the dark, sinister stories of ETA Hoffmann, Offenbach and his librettists Michel Carré and Jules Barbier wove a plot about a poet, Hoffmann, who is haunted by three doomed love affairs and whose Muse has been lost to the intoxication of alcohol. Hungarian director Kriszta Székely creates a new production at the Erkel Theatre in December which stars tenor Boldizsár László as Hoffmann. 

The autumn also sees the chance for audiences to attend productions that were streamed during the mostly locked down 2020-21 season, such as Levente Gyöngyösi’s The Master and Margarita, a reimagined L'incoronazione di Poppea where composer Máté Bella spices up Monteverdi’s score with contemporary musical elements, and Jakab Tarnóczi’s take on Lully’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme. There is also a nod to Dante’s 700th anniversary with an evening of works at the Bánffy Stage, including a concert performance of Puccini’s comic opera Gianni Schicchi, whose wheeling and dealing are based on an episode in The Divine Comedy.  

Click here for season details of the Hungarian State Opera and the Hungarian National Ballet.  

This article was sponsored by Hungarian State Opera