There is no life without stories. Zoltán Kodály's Háry János, however, is one of the greatest dreamers to ever take the musical stage: “Everything he says is reality interwoven with fantasy, illuminated with the genius of folk tales”, declared the composer. The marvellous adventures of the rascally veteran from Nagyabony combined with Hungarian folk songs scored for full orchestra have been enchanting audiences since 1926. Discussing the production that has run at the Erkel Theatre since 2013, director Attila Vidnyánszky said, “Háry János is about how, amidst the centuries of failures and defeats of Hungarian history, to find in our dreams a salve for these wounds.”
In the village of Nagyabony, the regulars gather at the inn to hear the aged veteran János Háry tell his stories. The judge, the student and a few farmers sit down to sip wine and listen to the old man's stories, which many of them take with more than one pinch of salt.
Adventure I: Háry stands guard on the Austrian frontier. The Austrian border guard refuses to allow anyone to cross over from the other side, including Marie Louise, the daughter of Emperor Franz, and her retinue – with Baron Ebelasztin among them, as well as the coachman Marci, driver of the imperial coach. Háry, together with the other Hungarians, pushes the guardhouse into Austrian territory.
Adventure II: In Vienna's Burghof, Háry succeeds in taming Lucifer, the most unbreakable steed in the imperial stables. As a reward, Marie Louise gives him a violet. Baron Ebelasztin, stricken with jealousy, exercises the authority given to him by Napoleon to present the Emperor of Austria with a declaration of war.
Adventure III: Hussars are encamped below Milan castle. Napoleon attacks, but his forces fall before a single wave of Háry's sword. Napoleon himself is taken prisoner. Marie Louise arrives: she wants Háry for her husband instead of Napoleon. Örzse appears, and is unwilling to part with her betrothed.
Adventure IV: In the Viennese court, Háry and Marie Louise are getting ready for their wedding. The little princes tell Háry what they've learned in school. The court marches in. Háry doesn't want Marie Louise's hand or a princely title. Instead he wants to return to Nagyabony, the village of his birth, together with Örzse.
Epilogue: in the inn at Nagyabony, Háry reaches the end of his story, which relates how the lovers held a big wedding and lived happily together until poor Örzse passed away. This meant that no witness remained who could verify Háry's tale. But none was needed, either, for “no one on earth is as valiant/as our Uncle Háry was!”