Sándor Szokolay's first full-length opera was premiered at the Opera House in 1964, and was then quickly added to the programmes of several European theatres; since then it has been presented at more than 20 venues. The piece reworks Federico García Lorca's Bodas de sangre, considered the author's chef d'ouevre.
The expressive musical style that with elemental force presents the passionate love and the tragic destiny it brings and Lorca's profound and rich emotional world makes Szokolay's work one of the most important creative works in 20th century Hungarian opera literature.
The Moon shines through the room window.
Its light is disquieting to the Mother whose Son is about to get married. Her husband and her elder son have been murdered, and now her last comfort is about to leave the house. Her excessive anxiety borders on jealousy. Her hatred towards the rival family, her recurrent fears imprison her in her own cell, and not even her Son’s love can jolt her out of this state of obduracy. Her suspicions about the Bride leave the Mother sleepless.
The Neighbour’s visit cannot ease her persistent fears. The Mother’s inquiries, her brooding over the past are made worse by the tidings the Neighbour brings. The Bride was formerly betrothed to the Leonardo whose relatives killed the Mother’s husband and eldest son. Hearing this, the Mother is unable to contain her implacable hatred.
In the meantime Leonardo has got married. However, he is not a happy man. Rocking their baby to sleep, his Wife sings of a black horse that has fallen in the river and cannot climb out onto the bank, ‘...its blood-foaming main, a silver dagger between its eyes...’—all concealed bitterness. The Wife senses that her husband has a lover, and her mother confirms her worst fears.
The Son asks the Bride’s hand in marriage in terse words. They strike a bargain. When for a moment the Mother is left alone with the Bride, she describes marriage as being no more than a man, a couple of children, and a thick wall between her and the rest of the community. When all are gone, the Maid confesses she knows about the Bride’s lover. Although at first she decided to ignore the nightly clatter of a horse’s hoofs and the identity of the horseman alighting outside her window, the fact that the secret visitor was Leonardo could not escape her attention.
The wedding day arrives. Leonardo is first: he wants to speak to the Bride in private. His probing words reopen unhealed emotions, but their passionate encounter is ended by the arrival of the wedding guests. The glamour of the wedding overshadows their thoughts; anxiety and jealousy get in the way of cloudless pleasure.
The passion-kindling Moon seals their fate. The lovers heed the call of blood and run away on horseback, embracing. The Mother’s suppressed thirst for revenge explodes. She and her son drive the whole wedding party after the fugitives, and the man-hunt begins.
The forest—a surreal world of concealment, a place where nature provides shelter for the fugitive. The Moon’s blood-soaked crescent menacingly shines through the foliage of the trees. The forest-dwellers, the woodcutters are doing their job, felling lives—forty-branched oaks—when the time is right. Heading the pursuers is the Bridegroom. Who is he chasing? He is left alone. He stumbles into Death in the form of his own Mother. She will show him the way. Leonardo and the Bride take refuge in the forest, although they are both aware they cannot stay there. The Bride is reluctant to accept Leonardo’s offer ‘to go where no one else can follow’. She would prefer to return to disgrace; from a dream-world to reality. The Moon illuminates the forest paths. The two men come face to face. A duel with knives follows.
‘Women! As fate had ordained, two men in love killed each other with a little knife between two and three o’clock.’ The widowed Bride lives on in disgrace, ostracised by her community. Dispossessed of the meaning of life, the Mother is left to live on in solitude. The dirge is sung for them also, not only the dead; the death-knell is sounded for them, too.
The Sun shines.