Péter Eötvös, text by Kinga Keszthelyj and Mari Mezei
Hungarian State Opera
Hungarian State Opera

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The Cast of Valuska Credit: Attila Nagy
The Cast of Valuska Credit: Attila Nagy
The Cast of Valuska Credit: Attila Nagy

Hungarian composer Péter Eötvös’s opera Valuska, a world première, is based on László Krasznahorkai’s award-winning allegorical novel The Melancholy of Resistance, which makes a strong political statement and is famous for its lack of full stops and few paragraphs.

“I was captivated by the language, the endless sentences, the abundant adjectives,” said Eötvös, who concentrates on theatre with music rather than opera. The innovative, eclectic, complex, dramatic score, full of strange sounds and silences, is conducted by Kálmán Szennai.

Bence Varga’s intriguing, expressionistic, surreal and mysterious production opens with an enormous swinging clock-face. The stage is bare, grey, smoky and impenetrably dark. The play starts with a train journey to a small provincial backwater town where everything is decaying and breaking down.

The people are living in a bleak, dystopian, unpredictable, unreliable world in which nature has stopped functioning and chaos is mounting. The depraved characters are grotesque and freakish; nobody more so than the villainous mayoress (a pantomime caricature by Tünde Szabóki). Everybody looks odd, shabby, anxious, aggressive, fearing, as they do, an invading army.

A travelling circus arrives with a taxidermized whale, the largest ever seen, and a Prince with three eyes and no legs or arms, who is never seen.

The leading character, Valuska, the innocent village idiot, a newspaper delivery man, riding a bicycle, is infatuated with astronomy and man’s position in the world. He is the only good guy in town and he ends up in an asylum. Eötvös composed the role specifically for Zsolt Haja, who gives a poignant performance.

The opera is not an easy watch and likely to be enjoyed most by those who have read and enjoyed Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s novel.

Valuska can be watched free on line on the OperaVision channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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