"The Arabian Nights meets 20th century Hungarian comic opera in the exotic Orient” – this would be an apt subtitle for this work by Ferenc Farkas, now being staged at the Opera House 75 years after its world premiere. The story follows the ordeals of a woman struggling against the powers that be: Suleika is intent on getting her innocent husband out of prison, but the cadi, the vizier and the mufti all demand a rather high price for his freedom, and it's anyone's guess who will win this fight.
The production is being presented as part of the Choral Artists' Mini Festival and HungarianFest in an excitingly unfamiliar part of the Erkel Theatre: the StorageChamberTheatre.
We would like to inform our viewers that the performance venue was originally intended as operational space. Warm, layered clothing is recommended.
In an imaginary city out of the Arabian Nights, the cadi is receiving visitors there to air their grievances. The first to be brought before the wise judge is the beautiful Suleika. She has come to plead on behalf of her husband, Hassan, who has been locked up in prison on trumped-up charges since answering an insult from a powerful sheik with his fists. The cadi takes the woman's side, but justice comes with a price: in exchange for her husband's freedom, the judge demands Suleika's “precious jewels”. The desperate young woman seems to accept this condition and invites the cadi to visit her at her home that night.
Having had no luck with the cadi, Suleika brings her complaint to the vizier. The vizier recognises that Suleika is in the right, but is only willing to free Hassan under one condition: if he can first possess the woman's “sweet delights”. Suleika invites him home for an assignation too.
The young woman then approaches the mufti. Leafing through the Koran, the sanctimonious cleric ordains that if Suleika wishes something from Allah, then she must also sacrifice something for it, and that which must be sacrificed is none other than the young woman's “flowering garden”, which the mufti can then “convey” to Allah. Suleika also invites the mufti to her home that night.
The woman thinks for a bit, and then heads off to the master carpenter to order a cupboard with three compartments, to be completed that day. The carpenter is willing to take on the job, but with one stipulation: she must let him have a certain “willowy tree” in return... Suleika agrees, but her requirements have changed: instead of three compartments, the cupboard must have four, and it must be ready by the evening.
The journeyman carpenters bring the cupboard to Suleika's home. After they leave, she checks to see that all four compartments can be locked tight.
The first of the “rascals” arrives: it is the cadi, eager to get what he came for. Suleika, however, insists that he first attend to the official matters, and so he writes out the order to release Hassan. After placing his seal on the document, he is about to kiss Suleika when somebody else knocks at the door. She hides the cadi in the first compartment and locks it shut. Opening the door, she finds that the vizier and the mufti have arrived at the same time. The commander and the holy man enter the house, and each of them separately asks Suleika what the other man is doing there. The young woman brings food, and the two suitors start to compete for the woman's favour. They are interrupted by yet another visitor knocking at the door. Suleika locks them in the cupboard too and admits the master carpenter, who immediately demands “payment” for his work. However, the woman is not satisfied with her purchase: the compartments are not big enough, she contends. They are too small for a man to fit in them, as she had requested. In order to prove her wrong, the master carpenter climbs into the fourth compartment. Suleika quickly locks the door, grabs the cadi's letter and hurries off.
After she departs, the four men in the cupboard figure out that they have all been lured into Suleika's trap. They make a loud commotion in order to attract the attention of someone who can free them. The neighbours come running, but are terrified to find a talking cupboard. Believing that it has been possessed by evil djinns, they are about to set it on fire. On hearing the great cries from within, however, they open the compartments and are relieved to see the cadi, the vizier, the mufti and the master carpenter all crouching inside. The four hapless men admit that the reason they had fallen captive is because they were trying to abuse their offices and take advantage of the predicament of a woman fighting for her husband.
Suleika and Hassan happily arrive home.
“Remember this well and make sure you don't forget how hard it is to outwit a woman!”