Effortless Pivoting and Marathon Endurance From the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra
Last night at Lincoln Center, the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra’s performance of Tschaikovsky’s Swan Lake began with the dancers hidden behind a shimmery curtain, artfully foreshadowing a narrative whose protagonist finally plunges in, never to surface again. After three marathon hours onstage, when the orchestra finally reached the long sequence of closing themes, conductor Balazs Kocsar opted for elegance over reckless abandon. It’s here that the composer’s command of seemingly every European folk dance that existed in the late 19th century is most stunning. Passages with machinegunning Serbian-inflected brass interlude, a tersely whirling minor-key reel and frequent interludes that bristled with Romany chromatics were seamless despite the disparity of the themes. Musically, that was the night’s big takeaway.
Getting to that point seemed vastly easier than it was. Kocsar had broken a sweat before the first act ended, but his endurance matched the stamina of the dancers and musicians. Tatiana Melnik channeled as much scheming menace as indomitable cheer in her herculean dual role as Odette the good girl and her shadow Odile. Gergely Leblanc brought a practically ghostly, flitting athleticism to his role as protagonist Siegfried. When the crowds of dancers hit the stage, they matched that precision. The stage set – by Toer van Schayk, who also choreographed and designed the costumes – provided an aptly bucolic backdrop for the story’s many subplots.
Whether playing the role of the czar’s personal band, a boisterous village pickup group, a boisterous village itself, or simply purveyors of vast, enveloping nocturnes, the orchestra maintained a kaleidoscopic tirelessness. The intricate counterpoint between strings and reeds in the opening court sequence, rising from subtle wariness to fullscale apprehension, was one of the night’s high points.
The lake scene with the famous “Siegfried idyll” was the orchestra’s most opulent moment, building through distantly glimmering tableaux, sinister phantasmagoria and contrasting calm, on the lavish wings of the strings. Throughout the night, Kocsar’s vigorous rhythms were unwavering, meeting every challenge as it arose, only to make way for a new interlude. It’s no wonder this orchestra are sought after for so many other performances outside the opera world.