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A wonderful Sunday evening (17 February) in the Palace of Arts in Budapest. The Marriage of Figaro, directed by Iván Fischer, principal conductor of the Festival Orchestra.

Directed by…or rather filled with life by. But how?! First, the conductor was free to move around during the whole performance, as he conducted by heart, which is already an outstanding achievement taking into account the volume of the opera. Another very resourceful idea was that the orchestra was on the stage, in four groups, around a small podium.  Singers and members of the choir mingled with the musicians. And the whole thing was made even more pleasant by smart and proportionate lighting and nice costumes. The costumes played a vital role by the way, what is more, they also served as the scenery – in the interpretation of Iván Fischer these are at the heart of the drama, the costumes were meant to convey the idea of embarrassing duality present all through the drama of Beaumarchais. Costumes are swapped, put on and taken off, this is how the characters transform from a young officer into a young girl (Cherubino), from a maid into a mistress (Suzanna) and from a loyal wife to a lover (the Countess).

Fischer fully exploited his freedom to move around and about, sometimes sitting, other times standing, he even ventured into the groups of his musicians, imitating some dance choreography. All this made the performance even more lively and his accurate way of conducting even more enjoyable. The opera was obviously set in this very nice concert hall, the MÜPA, which is different from the Opera. This is one more reason why we should raise our hats to the conductor-director, who managed to fully exploit all the possibilities offered by the venue.

I would even say that this venue was even better than the Opera would have been. The relatively limited theatrical space provided an opportunity to see an “easier”, lighter interpretation of the piece, which made it livelier and brought it closer to the audience. One obvious comparison is Don Giovanni in the Budapest Opera, which I saw a few days earlier. The artists did their best and sang their parts very well in the grandiose scenery, but I must admit…I was a bit bored. Sluggish acting, sometimes turning into melodramatic scenes (the fatally injured Commendatore faints slowly and carefully so as not to hurt himself by accident, or the lack of surprise on the faces of the men chasing Don Giovanni when they realise that the man they caught was Leporello in disguise). In other words: there was no life in the performance.

What a contrast with Figaro!

One other merit of the latter performance was the young singers. They have beautiful voices, registers and their appearances make them perfectly suitable for the roles they play; but most importantly, they play, in the most concrete sense of the word, they become fully immersed, with joy and pleasure. The cast is international: a Swede, an Israeli, two Germans, one Brit, one Irish, two French, an American of Romanian origin and an Italian! Could anybody do better? This made the performance even more appealing, with the atmosphere of a real, genuine festival, in the original sense of the word, which means “a gala”. Iván Fischer had good reason to call his orchestra the Festival Orchestra.

We only have one wish: to be able to see such performances again, the sooner the better!

Pierre Waline


Des Noces… d’ or au Palais des Arts de Budapest

Merveilleuse soirée dimanche (17 février) au palais des Arts de Budapest. Au programme: Les Noces de Figaro dirigées et mises en scène par lván Fischer à la tête de son orchestre du Festival.