Based on the novel The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai, Péter Eötvös’s new opera entitled Valuska premieres on 2 December 2023 at the Eiffel Art Studios. The composer’s first Hungarian-language grotesque commedia tragica, commissioned by the Hungarian State Opera, featuring soloists Zsolt Haja, Adrienn Miksch, Tünde Szabóki, and András Hábetler is staged by Bence Varga and conducted by Kálmán Szennai.
Péter Eötvös was commissioned by the Hungarian State Opera in 2018 to compose his 13th opera in Hungarian. The work by the internationally acclaimed contemporary composer and conductor is based on the 1989 novel The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai, winner of the International Man Booker Prize, which Béla Tarr adapted for the screen as Werckmeister Harmonies (2000).
In the middle of the night, a traveling circus arrives in a chaotic small town, with the world’s largest taxidermied giant whale as its main attraction. The two-member company, the owner who calls himself the Director and his assistant hide a mysterious malformed dwarf named the Prince. It was Tünde, the mayoress who invited the circus to the city to increase her influence, but the Prince drives the initially silent mob to destroy, as a result of which looting, arson, and murder begin. Caught in the middle of events is the innocent and well-meaning half-wit János Valuska, who delivers newspapers for the post office. Naively fascinated by the majestic order of the universe, he enthusiastically relates its incredible wonders to the congregation of impassive workers frequenting the local pub. His only friend is the Professor, a retired headmaster, an extravagant recluse. In the end, amidst this pointless and ruthless destruction, Valuska is also swept up in the crowd and becomes an unwitting member of the violent throng.
The composer was mostly inspired by the figures of the Prince and Valuska, thus a manipulative and destructive hunger for power and innocent purity, love, and wish to help collide in the opera. Further important characters are Mrs Pflaum, Valuska’s mother, and the Narrator, whose role includes quotes taken from the novel by Krasznahorkai. The gloomy, surreal novel was transformed into a performance that combines the genres of opera and theatre with the grotesque. The libretto was developed by Péter Eötvös and his wife and constant creative partner Mari Mezei, along with dramaturg Kinga Keszthelyi. The production is directed by Bence Varga, who previously staged Dohnányi’s Tante Simona and Hubay’s Le luthier de Crémone, as well as two Hindemith operas (Sancta Susanna, Hin und zurück) at the Hungarian State Opera. The visuals, reminiscent of the second half of the 20th century, were created by set designer Botond Devich, costume designer Kató Huszár, and lighting designer Sándor Baumgartner.
The title role of Valuska is performed by Zsolt Haja, who recently had a great success as the only Hungarian soloist of György Kurtág’s opera Fin de partie. He has worked several times with Eötvös, who created the role specifically for him. Further cast includes Adrienn Miksch (Mrs Pflaum), Tünde Szabóki (Tünde), and András Hábetler (Professor). The Hungarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus (chorus director: Gábor Csiki) and conducted by Kálmán Szennai.
Valuska is the first world premiere and the fourth opera presented by the Hungarian State Opera after Three Sisters (2000), Love and Other Demons (2017), and Senza Sangue (2018). Following the world premiere, the German version of the opera is presented by the Regensburg Theatre in February 2024.