József Chudy was a Hungarian composer and conductor living in Vienna. His 1793 work Prince Pikkó and Jutka Perzsi (1793) was the first Hungarian opera, although the music has been entirely lost. A little over two decades after the premiere of Prince Pikkó, along came József Ruzitska's work Béla's Flight, for which both music and libretto remain, which is why certain sources consider it to be the first Hungarian opera. We are dedicating a night to these two works of such eminent importance to Hungarian opera history: to replace the lost work, György Orbán has written along with new music for Prince Pikkó, a new libretto that, with the exception of the ending, faithfully follows the plot of the original work.
The story takes place in Dalmatia in 1241, during the Mongol invasion
Ever since the death of Endre II placed Béla IV on the throne, the Hungarian nobleman Kálmán has been absent from the court. After his son had been cast into prison for being in league against the king, Kálmán appeared before the sovereign to tell him that if his son was indeed guilty, then he deserved to be punished. But first, the king should look into the matter. Béla, however, turned his back on the loyal old nobleman, and shortly afterwards there came news of the death of Kálmán's son. Renouncing his homeland, the broken father settled in the dense forests of Dalmatia, but his heart continues to thirst for revenge against Béla.
Kálmán and his followers are hunting in the Dalmatian forest and successfully bring down a bear. Kálmán asks his goddaughter, Lóra, to sing her favorite tune, a lament over the bitter fate of Hunnia (“Downtrodden Hunnia groans...”). Kálmán tells the Knight of Saint John, who has just returned from the crusades, how there might be a new way to take revenge on the king: After being wounded wounded at the Battle of Mohi, Béla – hiding his own identity and not recognising his host – sought refuge in Kálmán's castle, where he has been a guest ever since. Unwilling to violate the law of hospitality, Kálmán has postponed taking vengeance until later. Ferkó is left along with his beloved at last.
Fleeing before the Mongols are Queen Maria, wife of King Béla, and their two children: the famished and exhausted Lajos and Sarolta. As their pursuers strike at them, however, they are rescued by Kálmán and his retainers, who take them to the safety of the Hungarian nobleman's castle, where the king himself has sought refuge.
Kálmán thus has another chance to have his revenge, but he also knows that it would harm the nation if he left it without a ruler by killing the king. The Knight of Saint John tries to remind Kálmán that his name will be glorified forever for protecting the king and his family. The nobleman, however, dismisses the knight's mollifying words.
Full of determination, Csabi is preparing for the battle against the Mongols, saying goodbye to his beloved Lóra with a heavy heart. Kálmán is torn between duty and vengeance: he gazes at the pictures of his ancestors, hoping that they will give him advice. Béla appears before his host to reveal his identity and thank the elderly lord for giving him refuge. The aggrieved old noble confronts the king with his unrelenting bitterness over the death of his son. Astonished to recognise Kálmán, Béla informs him that he had been ready to honour Kálmán's request, but the lad committed suicide in prison before he could do so. The dumbfounded Kálmán receives the news with disbelief.
The Mongols send an envoy with a message from Batu Khan: they have learned that King Béla is hiding in Kálmán's castle. If the Hungarian nobleman does not hand him over, they will launch an immediate assault on the stronghold. Nevertheless, Kálmán is unwilling to betray the king. At this, the Mongol envoy threatens Béla, telling him that his wife and children are being held captive and will immediately be killed. Kálmán, however, exposes the envoy's lie by leading Mária and the two children before Béla. As a token of his gratitude, the king makes Kálmán the guardian of his two children in order to console their elderly benefactor for the loss of his own son.
“Hungary! If all of your people possessed such souls, the angel of peace would smile upon you.”
Perzsi pleads with her father, the Tatar Khan, to have her marry the Kalmyk prince, Pikkó. Since the prince's father is the khan's fierce enemy, the request is refused. Perzsi threatens her father by telling him that Pikkó and his Kalmyk forces will launch an attack against him and overwhelm the Tatar people. The khan vows that he will never give away his daughter to a Kalmyk. Prince Pikkó's envoy visits the khan: he is there to ask, on behalf of his lord, for Perzsi's hand in marriage. And since the request is rejected, threatens war. The envoy informs the Tatar chieftain that Perzsi is already secretly involved with the prince, and their marriage could entail a pledge of peace. Sibuk, The khan's confidante, throws the envoy out. Perzsi's father suspects that it is not so much his daughter's hand that Pikkó is after as the Tatar throne. In order to reassure his lord, Sibuk comes up with an idea: he advises the khan to divulge the fact that Perszi is not really his daughter. The chieftain is horrified by the idea, but Sibuk has the final word: this is the only way to save his people from destruction.
Prince Pikkó is awaiting his beloved for their night-time meeting, but instead of Perzsi, it is the khan who appears, accompanied by Sibuk. The prince informs them that the girl is already his, and nobody can take her away from him. As the khan's spokesman, Sibuk says the Perzsi is in fact not the khan's child by blood, and therefore the Kalmyk prince will never sit on the Tatar throne. However, it is not for her rank that Pikkó loves the girl, and he is unaffected by Sibuk's words. The khan departs, and Sibuk is just about to play his final trump card when Perzsi appears. The furious girl sends her father's confidante away, and the two lovers are left alone in each other's arms to plan their happy future together. Sibuk relates the story of the fight between Perzsi's father and Pikkó, which ended with Pikkó slaying the Tatar khan. Overcome by sorrow, Perzsi is about to put an end to her life, but in order to prevent this, Sibuk reveals the secrets of the past: Perzsi was not the khan's child by blood, since the girl's mother had been pregnant by another man at the time of her wedding. Mourning the Tatar khan as a father, Perzsi drinks poison. Arriving in the company of his envoy is Pikkó, who begs his dying beloved to forgive him. There, in the arms of her beloved, the girl exhales her last breath. Sibuk reveals the truth to the prince: Perzsi had been Pikkó's half-sister, as the Kalmyk chieftain had fathered both of them. Mourning his beloved, the prince also commits suicide. Left alone and seeking absolution, Sibuk summons the Great Mage, who warns Sibuk that he must complete his mission in life: as a living person who still has things left to do, Sibuk cannot die yet. The spirits of Perzsi, Pikkó and the khan appear, and Sibuk is comforted.