After conquering Budapest and New York, Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra won over the Edinburgh International Festival’s audience with their unique take on The Marriage of Figaro. This is how the orchestra, regarded as one of the top ten in the world, began their collaboration with the world-famous festival.
The opera that, in 2013, set New York and Budapest alight, did the same over three nights at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Directed and conducted by Iván Fischer, The New York Post called his opera production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro “crazy good”, while The New York Times wrote that Figaro – as with Don Giovanni two years earlier – was “the highlight of the New York opera season”. New York Magazine went so far as to vote the performance the city’s best classical music event of the year.
As Iván Fischer put it at the time of the Budapest premiere, “The protagonist of Figaro is the costume. You can change clothes. From a man into a woman, from a woman into a man, from a countess into a maid, from a faithful wife into a mistress. That is, play roles with the aid of costumes. They are fantastic, because they lend you a new personality, gender, role, an opportunity to transcend yourself and enter a new world that could be that of fairy-tales or dreams. This is what this Figaro production is about.”
The anticipation was palpable as the audience waited to step into this dream world, where once again the story and the game worked together in harmony. The Festival Theatre was full to the rafters with applause, cheering and laughter.
The Times noted how the audience loved the opera: “If you measure the merit of a production in audience laughter, the conductor Iván Fischer’s eccentric concert staging of Le nozze di Figaro is a delirious success.” The reviewer also commented on Fischer’s impeccable conducting. According to The Guardian‘s critic, Fischer creates “a palpable ensemble feel that extends to every person on stage”. As she put it, “the agency, colour and charisma from all players is a joy to hear.” The Telegraph wrote that without doubt, “nothing could mar the marvellous, mercurial airiness of [Fischer’s] conducting … or the effortlessly vivacious playing of the Budapest Festival Orchestra.”
One of the interesting aspects of the performance was the way Fischer dismantled the traditional hierarchies between conductor, musicians and singers by putting everyone on the same level and thus thoroughly integrating the orchestra on stage. “One can imagine Mozart himself wholeheartedly approving” wrote the Edinburgh Spotlight, who summarised the experience by saying the “Performances throughout are superb. The Budapest Festival Orchestra perform a flawless rendition […] and the cast are uniformly excellent. Joyful and ebullient with first-rate performances throughout, this enjoyable production is the perfect marriage of music and theatre and engages from start to finish.”
Thus began what will become a long-term collaboration between the Festival Orchestra and the world-famous Edinburgh International Festival, the important first step of which is the tour that concluded on 18 August with Mozart’s Requiem and his Prague Symphony.
The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s next performance is on 5 September at the Pozsonyi Picnic, while the curtain is officially lifted on the season on 11 September with Bridging Europe, a joint event between the Palace of Arts and the BFO which this year is all about Austria.