The first premiere at the Erkel Theatre is Leonard Bernstein’s legendary musical, West Side Story directed by Péter Novák and featuring Erika Miklósa and Gergely Boncsér in the main roles on 11 September 2015. Bernstein’s classic composition in Péter Novák’s new production that combines operatic voices with dance theatre elements is a perfect beginning of the Shakespeare season of the Hungarian State Opera.
Leonard Bernstein acted for many years as the musical director of the New York Philharmonic, and he conducted several renowned orchestras from all over the world. Besides, he composed musicals and operettas based on such literary pieces as Candide or Peter Pan as well as symphonic ballet or choral music. However, none of his pieces could achieve the popularity and professional success of West Side Story. His partners in crime – librettist Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who made his debut in New York with this piece, and choreographer and director Jerome Robbins – arrived from the world of classical music, dramatic literature and classical dance to musical theatre. Their great mutual dream was to create the perfect musical in which music, dance and lyrics form a wonderful whole that Broadway had never seen before.
The premiere on 26 September, 1957 began a series of 734 performances, which was followed by tours, new American and European premieres, and the piece turned into an iconic work in the history of musicals and films after the 1960 premiere of the film version. In Hungary it was first shown in Szeged in 1965 in an international production. In 1969, the Budapest Operetta Theatre produced it directed by László Vámos, choreographed by Richárd Bogár. In the following decades more than twenty Hungarian productions were put on stage. Péter Novák’s production is the first one that puts Bernstein’s classic piece onto an opera stage in Hungary.
Director Péter Novák choreographed and played the role of Bernardo in previous productions. “The novelty I stand for is the fact that the composer’s intention – operatic voices perform the main roles – is combined with the social background of the plot: the story takes place in the world of adolescents. The soloists of the Hungarian National Ballet act as alter egos of the sung figures, members of the gangs are performed by excellent singers of the choir as wells as graduates of the Hungarian Dance Academy.”
“It is an exciting challenge to exist in more dimensions,” says Erika Miklósa about her role as Maria. "At certain times the ballet dancers act, we are present only through our voices. Then, after a transition, we appear, and we become real-life figures instead of beings voices.” Miklósa has already sung this role, but Péter Novák’s visions are very important to her. “We receive tailor-made instructions from him; he adjusts the roles to our own characteristics so that fit them perfectly.”
“The piece tells us a message about how easy it is to fire gun whereas its consequences are grave: someone dies. Another important thought that forms the plot is that the colour of our skin and our religions do not matter. Only what we do,” added Erika Miklósa.
The monumental sets were designed by Péter Horgas to suit the director’s concept. The enormous grid structure gives perfect space and opportunity for the singers, actors and dancers as wells as the dramatic scenes and the dynamic motions. “The painfully rigid, sad space emphasises the desire for love, the sensation of being an outsider and fear, it can make us understand an experience these states.”
According to director Novák, the drama in the plot and its actuality is not questioned. For this reason the set as well as the costumes and the dance inventions reflect our times as the issue West Side Story revolves around – that differences between cultures result in fear whereupon fear results in hate – is very much present nowadays.
The performance is produced with special permission from Music Theatre International (421 West 54th St, New York, NY 10019, tel: 212-541-4684, www.MTIShows.com). All authorised performance materials are also supplied by MTI.
Premiere: 11 September 2015
(Rehearsal photo by Attila Nagy)