On the 7th of November, 1810 a talented boy was born as the son of a teacher. He was Ferenc Erkel, the begetter of the national romantic opera. Since 2013, his birthday is the day of the Hungarian Opera. It was also the day when the ‘smaller brother’ of the Hungarian State Opera, the Erkel Theatre re-opened its gates.
This year, professional awards will be given to talented performers on the day of the Hungarian opera. This will be followed by The Queen of Sheba in the Erkel Theatre.
Opera as a genre first appeared in Hungary in the 18th century with foreign opera companies. For a long time they only performed at aristocrat families’ private theatres because the country didn’t have a theatre for operas (the Hungarian State Opera was inaugurated in 1884). The most famous theatre was the one at the Fertőd Residence of the Esterházy family. They had their own orchestra, opera company and even composer, Joseph Haydn.
The independent Hungarian opera evolved later because for a long time there wasn’t need for music. European level music became the part of Hungarians life in the 19th century. The ideal of national art had to mature for the birth of a national opera. In the decades of the national revival, opera aspirations were the meeting of the dramatic adaptation of the Hungarian fate creating national identity and the celebrated romantic music style that represented the national character.
Ferenc Erkel was aware of the opera as a genre and this was indispensable for our home opera to flourish. His talent made the birth of Hungarian opera possible. The turning-point came in 1840 when Erkel’s first opera, Bátori Mária was presented. It was a milestone which lived up to the hopes and was part of the repertoire for many seasons.
His acts were always inspired by the Hungarian history and this very much appealed to the audience. His second opera, Hunyadi László was an even bigger success. The majestic women figure, Erzsébet Szilágyi mourns for the whole nation’s tragic fate which is represented by his son’s death.
The audience wanted more and more operas from Erkel. His most significant opera is Bánk bán, in which he consciously combined Italian, French and Hungarian opera. With fine voices he creates the national character of opera figures.
One of the most famous arias of the Hungarian opera history performed by József Simándy as Bánk bán:
He wasn’t the first or only composer in that time but his talent, devotion and persistence rightly made him the begetter of Hungarian opera. He was the leading figure of the Hungarian opera life for decades, he conducted more than 5000 performances and he founded the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, not to mention that he is the composer of the Hungarian National Anthem. He was exceptional. The day of the Hungarian Opera is dedicated to him.
Written by Alexandra Béni