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La bohème in Budapest

Svetla Vassileva Mimi
Alfred Kim Rudolfo
Boris Statsenko Marcello
Eszter Wierdl Musetta
Ádám Horváth Schaunard
András Palerdi Colline
Hungarian State Opera House orchestra, chorus and children’s chorus/János Kovács
Csaba Káel Director

National Concert Hall, 10 May 2008

Budapest's architecture reflects the diversity of the city’s culture, with classical and baroque styles intermixed with Ottoman influences. At the ultra-modern National Concert Hall Puccini’s La bohème was semi-staged but that not in any way implying a reduced production. Props were minimal but the platform was large enough to accommodate the full activity of the Café Momus sequence, complete with on stage band. The scene was set very effectively by video projections of sketches of Paris, which neatly incorporated efficient surtitles.   The Hungarian State Opera House orchestra, chorus and children’s chorus were joined an international cast of young singers led by Alfred Kim, a South Korean tenor of real promise, as Rudolfo and Svetla Vassileva as Mimi.  Boris Statsenko (Marcello) had an unfortunate tendency to over-sing which emphasised the lack of vocal strength of his Musetta (Eszter Wierdl).  However, both Ádám Horváth (Schaunard) and András Palerdi (Colline) impressed favourably.  The orchestra was in robust mood, and the acoustics of the hall were impressive.

A highlight of my weekend was a rare chance to see operetta in its home surroundings, at Budapest’s Operettszinhaz, performed with light hearted zest at a matinee the same afternoon.   Located in an elegant boulevard in the heart of the theatre district, purpose built in 1922, and lovingly restored, its glittering chandeliers, velvet wall covering and gilded stucco decorations add the finishing touches of glamour to the occasion, the theatre runs on the repertory system with a dozen or so productions overlapping - the cast for the day is just displayed on a board in the foyer. Mágnás Miska (Mike the Magnate) is by Albert Szirmai, one of the trio of composers at the heart of the Hungarian operetta tradition.  Later in life he moved to New York, changed his name to Sirmey and joined the music publishing houses of Harms and Chappells, where many Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers Broadway scores came under his editorial guidance.

A stable lad Miska (Imre Bajor) and his laundress girlfriend Marcsa (Marika Oszvald) unwittingly masquerade as ungainly members of the nobility, whilst an outrageous real life countess (Zsuzsa Lehoczky) confuses the plot with her light fingered misappropriation of every valuable in sight.  The comedy was delivered with spot-on timing and wafted along by a succession of seductive tunes. The ball scene delivered a swirling waltz followed by a lively folkdance, Hoppsza, Sári.  A spirited orchestra, graceful costumes and an audience who clearly loved every minute provided the final touches.   My ticket provided entry to the elegant VIP lounge, where the tables were discreetly marked with seat numbers and laid out with interval snacks and glasses of sparkling wine – truly an occasion to remember.

Serena Fenwick