Feathers, soldiers and a cannon of glitter: Hungarian Operetta Day opened with a literal bang to honour one of Hungary’s most loved composers , Imre Kálmán.
In 2002 Hungary launched Hungarian Operetta Day on 24 October, a date coinciding with fellow composer Ferenc Lehár’s death in 1948 and Kálmán’s birth in 1882.
Since 2013 marks the 60-year anniversary of Kálmán’s death, the Budapest Operetta commemorated the composer with a spectacular showcase of his music, combined with an awards show honouring this year’s achievements in the Hungarian operetta world.
Yvonne Kálmán, the composer’s youngest daughter, attended the production on a flying visit to Budapest as an ambassador for her father’s work, and was awarded the Grand Prix by Miklós Gábor Kerényi, the director of the Budapest Operetta.
Kálmán hailed from the Silver Age of Operetta, following on from the Golden Age of the Strauss brothers in Vienna, however his music went beyond the scope of the former Austro-Hungarian boundaries. It merged the Hungarian operetta tradition with styles from French music halls and American jazz, along with his influences from Hungarian and Gypsy folk music, giving his compositions, and this year’s Operatta Day Gala, an international flair.
Marrying the art of burlesque, the can-can and jazz flappers with Hungarian folk dance, moving solos and comedic pieces, the gala offered an engaging production exploding with colour, music and dance.
Popular pieces, such as “Hajmási Péter” from the “Gypsy Princess”, starring Bori Kállay and András Faragó, engaged the audience with its soldiers drunk on an oversized bottle of champagne, and “Long Time” from “The Little Dutch Girl”, featured an old crone, played by Marika Oszvald, who transformed into a glamorous lady outfitted in blue sequins, dazzling all with her gymnastic dancing skills after playing a tune on a row of glass bottles.
Operetta is often misunderstood, where some dismiss it as a decadent art form, but closer inspection reveals the genre’s complexity, where music and operatic talent is combined with dance, acrobatics and pantomime, and after seeing the gala presenting Kálmán’s best work it’s understandable why the Budapest Operetta is Hungary’s most visited theatre, with 500 shows per year.
“The operetta is a Hungarian art form that speaks to the soul of the people,” said Miklós Gábor Kerényi, introducing the award ceremony. “The operetta shouldn’t be a museum but accessible to everyone. It is part of Hungarian identity and culture.”
There is an interactive atmosphere at the operetta – where the stage comes closer to the cheering public. Before the energetic finale, Kálmán’s “Hey, Gypsy” from “Countess Maritza”, sung by tenor Zsolt Vadász, had the entire hall clapping along, while some quietly hummed along.
The gala itself might be a one-off event combining the magical sense of showmanship and the honoured presence of Kálmán’s youngest daughter, but Kálmán’s spirit lives on through the Budapest Operetta’s winter season, with upcoming productions of “The Gypsy Princess” and “Countess Maritza” in November and December. Budapest Operetta invites spectators with open arms, whether they are Hungarian or international, with a rich program of shows including work from other composers, like Paul Ábrahám and Béla Zerkovicz. The productions might be in Hungarian but the music, dance and visual flair need no translation.
Budapest Operetta and Music Theatre
Nagymező utca 17, District VI
Phone: (+36-1) 472-2030
Box office: (+36-1) 312-4866