Bartók Plus Opera Festival, established at the turn of the millennium, is rated as the most significant Bartók festival sustaining and developing further Béla Bartók’s oeuvre in a unique way. The epoch-making musician’s stage and orchestral works make up the central core of the festival’s programme.
The mission of the festival, inspired by the world famous composer’s spirit and spirituality, is to present the popular opera repertory after Bartók, and to encourage the creation of contemporary works. Bartók Plus, in its Artistic Manifesto, has invited present day composers to write the “popular opera of our age” to create an easy to receive opera genre. This initiative is followed by a series of premieres.
It was this search for the new directions of the opera genre that inspired the launch of “Key to the Future” –Opera Composition Competition in 2013. Through the advertisement of this competition Bartók Plus Opera Festival has discovered talented young composers now on the international music scene.
In addition to performing Bartók’s oeuvre, contemporary operas of our age and the works submitted for the opera composition competition, Bartók Plus presents the audience with very special performances of the best known and most popular pieces of operatic literature. In the programme “Opera for Thousands” based on the concept that “Opera should belong to everyone” these classical masterpieces are produced as large-scale open air performances in public places in the city. These free-of charge performances relying on the participation of the audience create new perspectives for these deservedly popular operas outside the walls of the theatre.
The objective of the founders of the International Opera Festival in Miskolc was to connect Miskolc and the region into international musical life.
At present the main purpose of the festival is to bill modern – 20th century and contemporary – operas, which can be described as ’popular operas’: that is, demanding, but melodious works capable of addressing huge audiences. Within that, visitors of the festival can see modern, but already classical pieces, new operas, large-scale free performances and an opera composition competition, as well.
The idea of the festival came from Péter Müller Sziámi (managing director of the festival from 2000 to 2002). His partners in the initiative were Árpád Jutocsa Hegyi (erstwhile director of the Miskolc National Theatre) and conductor Gergely Kesselyák (music director of the Miskolc National Theatre at the time, festival director since 2011). The artistic work of the festival was aided ever since its conception by opera singer Éva Marton (artistic director of the festival from 2003 to 2007) and opera singer Tamás Bátor (managing director of the festival from 2003 to 2011).
In a few years, the Miskolc Opera Festival made Miskolc an important stronghold of the opera scene in Central and Eastern Europe. The event is supported by Bartók’s descendants and inheritors, and is renowned as the pre-eminent Bartók festival.
One of the primary missions of the Bartók Plus Opera Festival is to sustain and spread Bartók’s legacy. Performing works by the world famous composer constitutes a stable core of the festival programme, and his stage works – Bluebeard’s castle, The miraculous mandarin and The wooden prince – are regularly performed in traditional and contemporary directorial interpretations by world famous artists.
The buzzword accompanying Béla Bartók’s name, the „Plus” in the festival title changed annually during the first decade of its existence. In 2001 Verdi, in 2002 Puccini, in 2003 Mozart and in 2004 Tchaikovsky was chosen to appear after „Bartók + …”. This was followed in 2005 by bel canto composers Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini, and in 2006 by authors belonging to the verismo trend: Alfano, Cilea, Giordano, Mascagni and Leoncavallo, among others. In 2007 the series of performances at the Bartók + Paris gave an overview of the 200 years of French opera, while 2008 introduced Slavic musical life. The year 2009 – related also to the Haydn Year – presented composers of the Vienna classicism along with works by authors of the new Vienna school. In 2010 the programme of Bartók + Europe was intended to give a „snapshot” of European opera playing and European musical life in general. In 2011, with the programme of Bartók + Verdi the festival returned to its starting point. Although the programme in 2012, just like in 2002, was advertised under the title Bartók + Puccini, this year saw a new approach to take shape. The new slogan “Let opera belong to everyone!” wants to emphasize that the festival is committed to the creation of popular operas of our age. Since 2013 the festival has continued its operations under the name of Bartók Plus Opera Festival.
Ever since the beginnings, the festival has invited world renown Hungarian artists as well as international opera stars, and almost all the notable opera groups of Central Eastern Europe have already visited Miskolc. The festival audience could take part in the Hungarian premiers of several operas. Bartók Plus Opera Festival has also organised several charity concerts for the benefit of historic churches in the city (the Synagogue, the Greek Orthodox Church) as well as for the renovation of Endre Latabár’s – the renowned man of the theatres – tomb in the Avas cemetery in Miskolc.
The chief venue of the festival is the Miskolc National Theatre, boasting with five stages, nevertheless, we have organised performances in several special venues in Miskolc as well as around Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county.
+ or Plus – A few words about the change in the artistic conception
It was apparent right at the start, that the original conception of accompanying Bartók by another opera composer every year, will last for only about ten years without repetition. The new concept interprets the ’+’ sign after Bartók’s name in the title as the symbol of opera playing after Bartók. The meaning of ’+’, based on the concept of festival director Gergely Kesselyák – winner of the Ferenc Liszt Prize and a National Meritorious Artist of Hungary – has changed: it refers to the future of opera playing after Bartók. Accordingly, now the festival has the name Bartók Plus Opera Festival and it holds the principle, that without contemporary popular operas being capable of addressing huge audiences, opera performances will become mere museums, and without public support it will be narrowed down to a minor genre of performing arts..
The four pillars of the new conception are the Opera Composition Competition, the performances of new operas commissioned by the festival in a cooproduction, Bartók’s works, the popular opera repertoire after Bartók (e.g. Bernstein, Gershwin, Korngold) and finally, large-scale, free opera performances labelled as ’Opera of thousands’, at various points of the town.
In the opera composition competition, during the festival in Miskolc, several young composers from different countries could make his or her work known to the audience and the jury; in 2016 the competition will be held in Autumn, in Budapest. Puccini’s Tosca (2012), Verdi’s Traviata (2013), Aida (2014) and Il trovatore (2015) were performed as part of the ’Opera of thousands’. Bartók’s Bluebeard’s castle is still performed every year. From the opera repertoire of 20th century – the period after Bartók – Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, Nino Rota’s Napoli millionaria, Prokofjev’s The fiery angel and Poulenc’s The human voice were presented. Several works of contemporary composers – Alexey Rybnikov, Girolamo Deraco, from Hungary: János Vajda, György Orbán, György Selmeczi, Gyula Fekete, László Dubrovay and László Vidovszky – were billed at the festival, and many of these performances were premieres.