(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
In Emmerich Kalman’s operetta La Bayadere, performed by the Budapest Operetta and Musical Theater at the Israel Opera, the plot is not the most significant element. Not because it is so silly and improbable, but because it is merely a marginal detail of what is happening on the stage.
The work revives what Stefan Zweig called The World of Yesterday, when people had nothing to do but falling in and out of love, attending parties and getting involved in intrigues. The piece also resurrects Hungary’s status as a provincial hinterland of the Habsburgian Austro-Hungarian empire. While the Viennese had a good time with Lehar and his Merry Widow at the Staatsoper, and hummed his catchy tunes, the Hungarians had to content themselves with second-best Kalman, who has no catchy tunes to hum.
Spiced with Indian ingredients, the work naturally lines up with the then-current trend of exoticism, in the backwater of Puccini’s Japonism in Madame Butterfly and his chinoiserie in Turandot, or Saint Saens’ orientalism in Samson and Dalila, or Bruch’s Kol Nidrei.
Pedestrian though the music was, this performance featured some excellent voices. Erika Miklosa’s bright, effortlessly high and flexible soprano as Odette was a pure pleasure to hear. So was Attila Dolhai’s radiant, soft and seductive lyric tenor as Radjami.
The stage was densely populated most of the time. Crowd scenes were lively, and imaginatively choreographed by Jeno Locsei and director Miklos-Gabor Kerenyi in splendidly polished solo, duo and ensemble sequences. Motor vehicles were a symbol of stage-direction modernity several decades ago.
Conducted by Laszlo Maklary, the Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion effectively provided the instrumental support.