On the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Bartók's first dramatic work, composed to a libretto by Béla Balázs, a brand-new choreography of The Wooden Prince will be returning to the stage of the Opera on 12 May 2017, following in the tradition of Ottó Zöbisch (1917), János Cieplinsky (1935) and Gyula Harangozó (1939) as well as the latter's 1958 version, already featuring more modern elements, and László Seregi's 1970 version, each new interpretation attempts to take a step in the direction of modernity, to resolve or even emphasise the contradiction straining between the childlike tale and the sophisticated music. This is the task undertaken by internationally recognised dancer and choreographer Pál Frenák, who at the helm of his own ensemble occupies a position on the world's cutting edge. The Wooden Prince will be his first project for the Hungarian National Ballet.
Featuring the Hungarian National Ballet and the Compagnie Pál Frenák
Standing on two adjacent hillocks are a pair of pretty castles belonging to the prince and princess: these are surrounded by a lush natural setting ruled over by the fairy. The prince goes out wandering, and in doing so discovers his beautiful neighbour. He falls in love at first sight, and unsuccessfully attempts to get her to notice him. He tries to get closer to his quarry, but as soon as he heads toward the neighbouring castle, the forest moves at the fairy's command, and trees block his path. The prince finds his way through the thicket, but the fairy causes the waters to rise and the waves to hold him back. As the prince does battle with the elements, the object of his affection remains indifferent, simply staring at herself in her mirror.
The prince, in order to attract the attention of his chosen one and teach her a lesson at the same time, sets about carving a replica of himself out of wood: out of a rough log, he fashions a human shape, fastens his own crown on its head and drapes his robe on its shoulders. The magical power of the fairy brings the doll to life, and it immediately launches into a grotesque dance, which succeeds in coaxing the princess to come outside: enchanted, she joins the strange figure to dance a magnificent duet with it, and then takes it back into her castle with her. As the prince sadly watches his creation's triumph, the fairy now comforts him and orders the forces of nature to submit to the prince and aid him. Meanwhile, the power of the wooden doll is waning: gazing at the figure as it lurches with grotesque movements, she realises how mistaken she had been to not choose its creator, her own flesh-and-blood admirer. She sets out to look for the prince, only to have the fairy create the same obstacles for her that the prince encountered. The love-smitten princess withstands the trials: the loving couple, after fighting courageously for each other, finally find each other. During their happy duet in the closing scene, their love is fulfilled surrounded by a natural world which is now silent and protective.