The National Choir's jubilee Verdi cycle – celebrating the ensembles 15th anniversary – reached a fitting finale (November 22) with a concert hall performance of Un giorno di regno at the Music Academy. Its premiere in Milan in 1840 was a catastrophic failure. Ever since, this comic opera has been regarded (fairly) as a folly of youth and unable to compete with his later weightier masterpieces. However, it is a mistaken view that it is not fit for performance. A good three decades ago, Gardelli presented a string of early Verdi operas, proving that they are authentically splendid music dramas. Thus the occasional staging of Nabucco, I Lombardi, Ernani, Attila and Macbeth in Hungary owes much to Gardelli's impetus. In January, the National Choir's cycle, which began in January and which has now closed, presented an affirmative reply to the question whether it is time to carry on down the path suggested by Gardelli and to revise our received opinions: are Verdi's lesser known operas justifiably neglected or is it simply it is this categorisation that is wrong? After the enthusiastic receptions given to the Two Foscari and Luisa Miller, Un giorno di regno's warm reception provided an unambiguous answer to the question: it is an illuminating experience encountering Verdi's little known opera scores when interpreted by talented musicians. We owe the National Choir a debt of gratitude, and their well chosen partners in this enterprise, because their birthday cake, far from utilising a familiar recipe, was made memorable by new flavours. It was an immense enjoyment for us to sample too. But this feast brings with it a problem! Namely that we are now struck down with a fiery appetite for other Verdi music that has not been played live, or at least, not in recent memory. Think of Giovanna d'Arco or Stiffelio, there are indeed some works by the greatest poet of Italian opera that we should like to at least hear in the concert hall, even if the theatres have now forgotten them…
Verdi was 27 when he composed Un giorno di regno, and he did so amid horrific personal circumstances. He had just lost his first wife and two small children, but had a contractual obligation to complete this comic opera with its none-too fine libretto. It is true that Un giorno di regno cannot compete with the works of those masters of the comic genre, Rossini and Donizetti, but there is no denying that with its motifs and turns of orchestration, it wins over the audience. For the singers – soloists and choir alike – is offers roles that are colourful and spectacular.
Tamás Pál – as both the evening's conductor and artistic director of the cycle – began by explaining to the audience the circumstances of the opera's creation, and then, by his conducting of the overture, created the artistic atmosphere in which the performers could breath with freedom, and widen the audience's receptivity to optimal levels. The MÁV Symphony Orchestra again gave their all, as they did with Luisa Miller, and adapted themselves to the atmosphere of the production with easy elegance and cheerful flexibility. The first applause was awarded to the instrumentalists for their performance of the exciting overture, and we could assess István Trejer's qualities as concert master by the extraordinarily balanced string sound and the intonational discipline of the different sections. There were changes in the cast line up, but we were informed of these by a handout when we arrived at the Music Academy. It was the foreign guest artists who were the favourites of the production: Ionel Pantea, who with his superb voice, singing and technique, enjoys an international reputation, and Spaniard Alfredo Garcia: Although only in his late twenties, he already possesses a mature baritone voice. Both were rapturously received by the audience. It was a surprise just how much vocal richness accompanies Timothy Bentch's stylistic versatility, and the musicality of the similarly young Balázs Fellegi also made a pleasant impression. Brunó Mocskonyi's clear tenor sounded beautiful in his two episodic appearances. It is an unusual feature of the score that it demands two mezzos: the remarkable Éva Szonda and Katalin Gémes (giving nothing away in naturalness), vied against each other in their roles as the exciting Marquess and the lovesick bride. Tamás Pál's performance simply enchanted us, although being intoxicated with Verdi (which I can well understand) he allowed the orchestra to be louder than perhaps they should have been. The National Choir, by contrast, finally confirmed with this performance our expectations for this cycle: there can be no doubt now that they have shown themselves to be the foremost professional choir in Hungary.
(Magyar Nemzet, November 24th 2001.)