Slipped Disc brings you the first account and pictures of Ivan Fischer’s opera, premiered tonight in Budapest.


Budapest October 13, 2013
Sensational, powerful and emotional.
This will be the talk of the city for some time… Never have I been at an opera premiere where the tension/excitement in the public was so intensely felt. The subject is so close to home here that the truth stings: Jews wrongly accused of a crime, anti-semitism escalates, Jews are acquitted, but the damage has been done, Anti-semitic sentiment prevails and they are forced to flee.
bloodlibel1The theatre Millenaris was completely packed. The audience was unusually seated on either side of the stage like in a stadium as witnesses to the action and many bean-bags were on stage for people to get a closer account and to feel in the plot. Before the first note norm an electric silence surged through the audience and was broken by a distant sound of an owl played on an ancient instrument called ‘luluk’.
The orchestra quickly interjected with a powerful tutti motif which was to become the leitmotif of the opera. The narrator, played by wonderful Hungarian actor Josef Gyabronka, gave the audience an introduction in a Bach-passion style recitative accompanied by the pipe-organ. A red cow was brought out on stage, pulled on a leash by the young village girl – Ezster (victim of the crime). This was received as many elements in the opera with humour. Eszter sang a traditional Hungarian folk song whilst walking the red cow in which she talks to it. the cow then steps on her foot and she falls to the ground; this cowprint on her foot later becomes the evidence that frees the Jews of the crime. A villager picks her up and sings ‘my little bird, I will heal you and take you to my cage’… Moric (the young Hassidic Jew) observes all this and slips away.
A folk dance scene follows with a lively chardash played by violin, double bass and folk viola. A crowd of young Hungarians in traditional country costumes come out and perform a very lively set of dances. Moric walks around in his traditional Hassidic clothing with long black coat and peyos observing this fun pub-style dance scene and becomes entranced by the expression and power with which they rejoice. The musicians here were truly infectious playing these Hungarian folk dances with a sharp sense of style and zest- one the benefits of staging this in Budapest. There was rapturous applause, as well done dance scenes in opera lighten and uplift audiences.
A rough-voiced (put mildly) middle-aged Hungarian sings a blues-styled song with piano, double bass and kit accompaniment, persuasively encouraging Moric (young Hassidic boy) to testify against the Jews by telling a lie in his testimony.
The trial scene.

The judge sits up on a chair. The Hungarian crowd are now dressed as soccer hooligans armed with vuvuzelas.  A freshly composed rap-style recitative is performed by Moric cheered on by the ‘mob’. This is extremely effective in highlighting pop culture and its sensationalism, much of the audience were tapping their feet and head beating to the rap beat.

Moric’s father – Apa and three other convicted Jews are in chains, they stand with disbelief listening to the false story and accusations as the tension builds. Apa and Moric have an argument in between, yet Moric stands his ground with the support of the crowd. The strength of orchestra in their fanatically paced scalic runs adds huge pressure and danger to this situation.

Then An Interruption by the superbly played guard with gun as he announces the arrival of a legendary Hungarian revolutionary – Kossuth Lajos.

The speech of Kossuth follows, in a powerful bass aria accompanied by celli and basses. He expresses his pride being a Hungarian, yet is disgusted with the anti-semitic furore that has come over the town.
The Jews are released from the shackles and a very intuitively composed ‘Nigun’ follows. The four Jews including Apa begin to sing and dance to the ‘nigun’, gradually growing more and more intense. This was most touching in its authenticity of emotion of both sadness and resolution. the dancing and singing had a weight of pain in it, heavily contrasting the first opening dance scene.

Finally Apa takes Moric with him on the train (played by the kit), and the quiet culmination occurs with four solo violins playing a most delicate and tragic choral. The Orchestra enters with a final statement whilst the Red Cow is brought out again. In a small interlude the cow begins to sing prayers in Hebrew (a cantor is performs this from inside the cow). Apa and son are centre-stage spot lit as if on the train, the kit keeps the train running the whole last scene which is cleverly titled ‘purification’. A huge orchestral culmination builds and one lone dissonance is left hanging until resolved in the last major chord. A sense of relief. Narrator signals lights off. The story has been told.

A short silence followed and then slowly one by one came the applause. emotions settle and audience responds fervently in the Hungarian-stlye unison clap. A most overwhelming experience.

Second premiere for youth will follow at midnight.
Vladimir Fanshil
photos (c) Eszter Gordon

Despite widespread reports of crashing internet connections, all 10,000 tickets put online for next summer’s Bayreuth Festival have sold, we hear, in 90 minutes.

There is now a followup online scramble to book hotel rooms. Not for everyone, of course.

merkel bayreuth2

There was some tabloid fuss last week about a judge refusing Alberto Vilar permission to atten an opera because it finished after 11 pm and that might violate the terms of his parole.

Well, Alberto did go to the ball… Onegin, to be precise.

He was given two complimentary front row (A) tickets ($255 each) by the conductor, Valery Gergiev.


alberto vilar met


Every other artist that Vilar once supported with his millions dropped him like a viper once he was convicted of the alleged fraud that he is now appealing.

Alone among his musical friends, Gergiev funded his defence and has kept the friendship going. Credit to his  loyalty. It’s rare in the musical world.

UPDATE: Oh, and here’s the response from Vilar’s lawyer to the tabloid skunk who kicked up a fuss about his request to go to the opera. It’s a classic:

Mr. Belkin:  I find your story about Alberto Vilar’s request to go to the opera troubling.  Like others you have jumped on the band-wagon to use pejorative terms (“scam”) that should not have been, and should not, be applied.  The developed evidence shows that there were no losses to clients,  except by reason of the government holding funds “frozen” since 2005.   Get your facts.  There were no “ill-gotten” gains.  If you are going to sully what’s left of a reputation (for what?), do it on an educated basis.


Please do not ask my comment for any other story.  My comment for YOU will be:  No thanks.  No comment for a “news” reporter just looking to kick the guy who is already down under a “system” that has closed its eyes to facts.


Please give me your editor’s name and email.




Vivian Shevitz

Attorney at Law *

Our Chicago psychotherapist, Dr Gerald Stein, concludes in this essay that he was both. The unanswered question is why, with such a natural abundance of talent, he needed to be such a bastard.

Read Dr Gerald here.


Composer Iain Bell is back in the laundry for the last time, before his big night in Vienna.


iain bell2

Again I write this blog in my regular haunt, the ‘schnell & sauber’ laundrette with forty-two minutes left in the tumble dryer and just a few hours until the General Rehearsal of A Harlot’s Progress. The General Rehearsal is the final fully-staged run-through of the piece in its entirety before the opening, so the last opportunity for any little tweaks to be tweaked vocally, dramatically and orchestrally before we get this show on the road.
Having already basked in the joy of seeing the piece on its feet during last Sunday’s final piano rehearsal, accompanied by the lights, costumes, wigs, sets etc., in their full Technicolor glory, I knew I would be able to entirely turn my focus onto the orchestra in the coming week.
I chose not to attend the first few orchestral rehearsals for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted the conductor, Mikko Franck to be able to stamp his own authority on the work. In past early-stage orchestral rehearsals I have had the experience where players crane over the shoulder of the conductor, bypassing him completely to ask me a question about interpretation. This is very awkward for me and undermining for the Maestro who is charged with interpreting the piece. I wanted to avoid that entirely. Secondly, I wasn’t too keen on hearing the orchestra ‘search’ for the piece and preferred to hear it for the first time when they were a little more familiar with it.
So the sitzprobe on Monday would be our first meeting and I was rather delighted that he venue of said first-date would be the Golden Hall of Vienna’s Musikverein; a wonderfully ornate concert house in the centre of the city. A sitzprobe is the rehearsal where the singers and orchestra first meet one another and in this case the singers were as eager as me to hear the piece, at least I had an idea how it should go; they were chomping at the bit. Not only did they want to hear the sound world I had created to tell Hogarth’s/Ackroyd’s story but they also wanted to assure themselves of such ‘singerly’ yet very valid concerns as whether the orchestration may be too dense for them, whether they could still find their pitches amid the instrumental textures etc.
It is no secret that this piece deals with some extremely dark issues like rape, madness and prostitution all of which I have tried to convey within the orchestra, which is free to explode further during the interludes I have scored to link the scenes. It was the interlude I had composed to depict Moll’s violent ‘deflowering’ that Maestro Franck chose to kick-off with. I was well aware that the acoustics of the hall would not be representative of those in the opera house, distorting, amplifying and echo-ing the music played, but this was definitely the moment where such a distortion had full impact. The violence of the music bombarded the room like the most aggressive, blood-thirsty film score you could imagine. I LOVED it for the sheer shock value of it!
Within a short while our ears had all adjusted and the rehearsal again became the studious environment necessary to get some work done. I could see the singers were really enjoying the process, physically grooving to the rhythms (an action I can assure will not be replicated on stage). I too was relieved that the music all held together and even with the distortion of the hall sounded better than I could have hoped at that juncture thanks to the great orchestra and firm leadership from the conductor.
It was so moving to hear my London soundscape wake up as it so exceeded my expectations. Upon leaving the theatre, I noticed a crowd of fans speaking to the singers with photos to sign. We have been in a ‘harlot bubble’ for six weeks and it is only now starting to really dawn on me that people ARE actually going to be listening to it very soon.

It’s 15 years since he’s been gone and friends are recording memories of the off-message, dangerously eclectic composer’s constant struggle with the Soviet authorities. Here’s a rich interesting piece by Vasily Shumov, founder of Moscow’s first new-wave electronic band, with lots of unfamiliar pieces.


schnittke minion

Clever Camera12_10_2013 04_49_17 PM_jpg

The results are in for Neue Stimmen, the televised German competition that bills itself as the world’s biggest. The jury split on the women and decided to share the full first prize between two sopranos – an Australian, Nicole Car and an American, Nadine Sierra. Third was the Russian, Kristina Mkhitaryan.

(Bad night for mezzos.)

The men’s mastersingers were:

Myong-Hyun Lee (South Korea)

2 Oleg Tibulco (Moldova)

3  Oleksandr Kyreiev (Ukraine)

(Wo sind die Deutschen? Has Italy run out of tenors?) UPDATE: More from the jury room.

neue stimmen

Judges Dominique Meyer and Liz Mohn with the winners. Photo: Jan Voth 

H/t Brian Dickie.