Our trip to Budapest was a musical theater odyssey. Our goal was to see shows that don’t get performed in the States. We had to make accommodation reservations months in advance, but Budapest theaters only post show schedules about 6 weeks out — so we had to see what happened to be playing during our week. We were in luck for musicals, but not operettas. The three musicals we saw were new to us, so part of my comment is reaction to the shows themselves. We studied in advance, and were well prepared to watch them in a language we didn’t understand. Here are some notes I hope will be of interest to musical / operetta enthusiasts.
All three shows are carried mostly by their songs, and have limited and brief dialogue. One difference from American musicals. All three shows have ballroom scenes. Róméo and Rebecca, to my surprise, both had projected titles in English.
Would’ve loved to see Cigányszerelem, Franz Lehár’s Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love), a show I’ve never seen performed. Missed it by a couple of weeks.
Vámpírok is a book musical, and of the three shows, I think it has the most distinguished score. The original musical was Tanz der Vampire (Dance of the Vampires), based on the movie Fearless Vampire Killers. The plot follows the Polanski film closely — to the point of including some extraneous scenes, like Rebecca hitting Chagal and Abronsius with the salami. The set is a cross-section of the Inn, allowing the audience to see what the various characters are doing in four different rooms, all at once. Ingenious if rather busy.
Answering my own question: the Budapest production is based on the German, rather than the very different American version that bombed on Broadway.
The plot hinges on vampires not casting a reflection in a mirror. How do they do this on stage? By using a double behind a scrim, moving in tandem with the main actor.
Rómeó és Júlia
This Romeo uses dance as heavily as another adaptation – West Side Story. The dance numbers are high energy. I’ve never been a disco/electronic music fan, but these songs create an air of excitement. The weak point is the boy-girl songs. They come off as generic ‘I love you and you love me’ songs.
Body count: more people die in Rómeó és Júlia than in Vámpírok Bálja.
This show is heavily plotted – I found I paid as much attention to the story as to the music. It is based on the duMaurier novel and the Hitchcock film of the same title. The songs support plot, often without calling attention to themselves – most of them are part of the action (“I'm an American Woman” being an obvious exception). As such, this is the most operatic of the three shows.
Budapest in-joke. The party guests at Manderley all come decked out in vampiric black leather Goth, as if they were the cast of Vámpírok Bálja walking into the wrong theater. One guest is a dead ringer for the vampire, Count Von Krolock.
It’s good to see Kunze and Levay use subject matter that has a chance of winning over an American audiences. Their work deserves to be seen in this country. Their other shows are Elisabeth (Empress to Franz-Josef -- most Americans have never heard of her), Mozart, and Marie Antoinette.
Die FledermausWe had to see a show at the Opera House. Mere days after a crowd of 10,000 protested the new government there – as we found out after we got home. Our other choices were La Bohème or Swan Lake. Either would’ve been okay by me, but we finally concluded it’d be most memorable to see Fledermaus. The show doesn’t need much comment — it’s the archetypical Viennese operetta. It contains all the stock characters, pretended identities, and situations. What sets it apart from many other operettas is that these standard elements actually work.
The theater was just as elegant as we expected, but surprisingly small.