The Red Heifer
About the program
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before the opera performance tonight there will be a short conversation in Hungarian discussing the historical background of the plot. You will not miss very much if you carefully read the story of the Tiszaeszlár affair. Thank you for your understanding.
Preface of the score
After my friend Miklós Erdély had created his marvellous film entitled “Verzió” on the Tiszaeszlár blood libel affair in 1981, we planned that we would jointly make an opera version of the film. The plan fell through because Erdély passed away a few years later in 1986.
I have been thinking incessantly about composing this opera for 25 years now. The Tiszaeszlár Affair becoming a present day hot political issue finally helped me. The same responses, stereotypes and petrified, unreasonable prejudices appear nowadays as if we were back in the Red Cow Inn in Nyíregyháza in 1883.
2. The story
The summary of the Tiszaeszlár affair can be read here.
Following in the footsteps of Gyula Krúdy, who wrote a beautiful book on this subject, I too do not endeavor to be objective. There can be no objectivity in the blood libel case.
The main topic of the opera is not the court case itself, but rather the “psychological mystery” (Krúdy), how the conjecturers of the showcase trial won 13 year-old Móric Scharf over to be their crown witness.
Móric Scharf, who as a child had accused his father and his companions of murder, was interviewed 45 years later, in 1927. Scharf said he had been severely tortured and threatened and felt he had been used by the anti-Semitic county lords for their political purposes. After the verdict he moved abroad and returned to the Jewish religion.
3. The title
The Red Heifer (or Cow) in the title carries four meanings: A cow trod on Eszter Solymosi’s toes thus providing decisive evidence based on which the recovered body could be identified with a high degree of probability.
Krúdy wrote much about “the Red Cow Inn” in Nyíregyháza and also about its popular Jewish hostess, called by the nickname “the Red Cow”. Finally, in the “Purification” movement of the opera, a quote from the Fourth Book of Moses (Numbers) is cited on purification by the ashes of the red heifer.
4. The libretto
The text is primarily a collection of quotes from Gyula Krúdy’s novel entitled A tiszaeszlári Solymosi Eszter (Eszter Solymosi from Tiszaeszlár). Krúdy accurately quotes the protocol of the trial which I, though abridged, adopted in an unchanged form. Lajos Kossuth wrote of anti-Semitism linked to Tiszaeszlár in two of his letters; I quoted from these letters in his monologue. The lyrics were written by Lajos Parti Nagy, except for the well-known song “Hey, Jewish girl”, which I adopted from Krúdy’s book.
5. The music
The same song (Hey, Jewish girl) is the only quote in the opera. All the rest – whether or not they seem like folk songs or examples of Hungarian or Jewish folklore – are my own compositions.
6. Advice and requests for performers
Actors and singers should work together: Kossuth and the Red Cow are roles for opera singers. The Man should be an actor, with experience of musicals or cabaret songs; Kálmán should be a young actor, who sings well. The part of Krúdy, Buxbaum, the Judge and József Scharf may be sung both by well-singing actors or well-acting singers. Móric and Eszter should definitely be performed by children. The Hebrew song of the heifer can be best performed by a Jewish cantor. If not available, the tradition of the torah-reading must be studied. The choir is definitely not an opera choir, but a group of young actors who also dance in the folk dance scene. The court scene should be staged with a large crowd, here the actor-dancer group can be supported with choir members. If necessary, soloists may use a microphone in this scene. If the actor playing the Man plays the piano well, he should play the piano part, but this is not absolutely necessary.
There should be no interval between scenes. The opera lasts 50-55 minutes.
Prior to the performance, the audience must be thoroughly briefed on the history of the Tiszaeszlár Affair.”
Iván Fischer about The Red Heifer
Gyula Krúdy – József Gyabronka
Móric – Jonatán Kovács
Eszter – Kyra Varga
Kálmán – Zsombor Jéger
Heifer – György Kozma
The Man – János Tóth
The Red Cow (Innkeeper) – Orsolya Sáfár
Judge – József Csapó
József Scharf – Tamás Altorjay
Buxbaum – Sebestyén László Szabó
Lajos Kossuth – Krisztián Cser
Chorus, dancers, Jewish prisoners, guards and audience – Students of the 3rd-year drama class of the University of Theatre and Film Arts
Costume: Györgyi Szakács
Stage design: Nóra Patrícia Kovács
Choreography: Bertalan Vári
Répétiteur: Dóra Bizják
Assistant: Eszter Balassa
Directed by Tamás Ascher and Kriszta Székely
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Iván Fischer: The Red Heifer
Sebestyén László Szabó
Tamás Ascher, director
Krisztina Székely, director
Györgyi Szakács, costume designer
Nóra Patrícia Kovács, scenic designer
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