Several years ago I had the privilege of visiting Budapest, Hungary and attending both an opera and a ballet. The prices for the tickets were low compared to US prices and the performances were top notch. When I returned home I vowed to attend the opera in Lincoln Center when I could, which was not so often given the higher prices for the tickets.
One of the cultural highlights of 2018 was a special event sponsored in part by the Hungarian Mission to the UN. At the end of October through the beginning of November, 2018, the amazing event was that the Hungarian State Opera and the Hungarian National Ballet came to New York making top notch performances available to New Yorkers. The US tour by the Hungarian artists was initiated on the occasion of the renovation of the Hungarian State Opera House
On October 30, the Hungarian State Opera opened their visit to New York with a performance of Ferenc Erkel’s Bank Ban (The Viceroy Bank). The evening represented a splendid continuation of the many cultural salons held at the Hungarian Mission to the UN to celebrate the music and other cultural achievements of Hungary. It was therefore fitting that Katalin Annamaria Bogyay, the Hungarian Ambassador to the UN opened the program on October 30 at the Koch Theater in New York’s Lincoln Center.
Ambassador Bogyay told the audience that this performance in New York was part of the 2018 celebration of Hungary’s National Day. She explained that the performance provided her with the opportunity to invite Ambassadors and other leaders of the United Nations to be part of the evening so as to celebrate Hungary’s national day together with drama and music.
The Ambassador described the role music and culture has played in the Hungarian struggle against oppression. She also recalled how the liberetto for the opera which was written in Hungarian had been censored in Hungary for a long time.
The opera is based on a 13th Century historical event when the Hungarian people fought against foreign oppression. The opera presented the abuse of the people of Hungary by Queen Gertrud of Merania who came to Hungary via her marriage to King Endre. Accompanying Queen Gertrud in the Hungarian Court were many of her Meranian retainers. They came with her to Hungary and she entertained them instead of attending to the obligation to alleviate the hardships in the lives of her Hungarian subjects. The result was widespread popular discontent with the activities of the Court.
The opera recounts the tragic story of how the Queen and her brother schemed against the wife of Viceroy Bank who was a popular leader opposing the suffering of the Hungarian People. The opera documents how such treachery can take its toll on those trying to challenge ruthless leaders, but it also demonstrates the resistance of those who oppose the cruelty and praises their efforts.
The cast, the performance and its staging were outstanding. The music was lovely. Also there were subtitles written in English and Hungarian for those who couldn’t understand the Hungarian performance. This opening program was the beginning of several other performances by the Hungarian State Opera in Lincoln Center along with some performances by the Hungarian National Ballet. Also a Gala Concert performed on November 4, 2018 featured selections from different operas and from different ballets providing a broad panorama of Hungarian culture for the New York audience. Several of the selections presented were greeted with enthusiast ‘bravos’ by members of the audience. The tour by the Hungarian artists was a demonstration of how music and art can help the UN encourage the struggle for peace and against tyranny.