sunnuntai 15. huhtikuuta 2012

Lili bárónő - Budapest & Kecskemét, Hungary (2010)

Géza Egyházi & Eszter Zavaros. © Katona József Színház
Lili bárónő (Baroness Lili) is the most popular operetta by the Hungarian composer Jenő Huszka and his librettist Ferenc Marton. It's performed by nine actors and, unlike most operettas, doesn't have big and fancy ensemble numbers full of cancan. What I like most about it is the music: it's light, beautiful and funny, and easily one of my favourite operetta scores ever. The songs are also surprisingly well related to the story, which isn't always typical for operettas, either. Some of the best known songs are Tündérkiralynő (Fairy Queen), Egy férfi képe (Portrait of a Man), Cigaretta keringő (The Cigarette Waltz) and Gyere csókolj meg (Come and Kiss Me).

The Story

First we have a Count, Count László Illésházy. He has inherited a family estate and no money, so he has to hire the manor out. Secretly he's also a playwright. Needless to say, he's also charming and has a tad of an adventurous bad boy in him, just enough to make him interesting in the eyes of women.

Enter the pretty but stubborn Lili, her almost-fiancee Frédi and her father Baron Malomszegi. The Baron wants a fancy house and a high-class life to accompany his recently acquired millions. Lili wants to be an actress. Frédi wants to convince the Baron of his high class and fine family to marry Lili.

Attila Pál (Frédi), Eszter Zavaros (Lili) and László Sirkó (the Baron).
© Katona József Színház

Things happen, and accidentally everyone thinks that the Count is in fact a chamberlain in the manor. The Count plays along with the story, not least because it offers a chance to daily meetings with a young sweet Baroness, and the Baron hires him.

Enter Clarisse, a renowned actress and the Count's former mistress who wants him back. Enter Agatha and Krisztína, two old maid aunts of the Count who want a place to live in (and later they both want the Baron, which leads to some interesting attempts to be young again).

Result: lots of misunderstandings, trying to figure out who is in love with whom and who is who and what their motives are, a meeting of the old world's aristocracy and the new world's snobs. In the end everyone finds their true love and gets what they want.

Erika Réti (Krisztína) attempting to charm László Sirkó (the Baron).
© Katona József Színház
The Productions

What I generally like about operettas is that there's never a production that would be similar to some other production. I have seen two very different productions of Lili bárónő, both equally good but in different ways. I really liked the directing in both of them, it was witty and funny and beautiful.

The one played in the Operettszínház in Budapest is kind of a chamber operetta, on an intimate rehearsal stage with about 30 seats in 3-5 rows and only a piano in the corner of the sets. When I first saw the production I didn't understand Hungarian very well and didn't know much about the story, but I nevertheless enjoyed the show, the singing and the dancing. The actors are excellent and it felt magical to see them dance so close to us. Everything happens in the main hall of the Illésházy manor, and with the many doors and situation comedy the performance sometimes reminded me of slapstick, though a slightly more sophisticated one.

My favourite actors in this production would be the perfect Anita Lukács as Lili, Attila Dolhai as Count Illésházy and Szilvi Szendy as Clarisse, but I liked the rest of them, too. The only exception was Dániel Vadász, the understudy Count Illésházy, who seemed too slimy and over-confident to be charming and honestly in love with Lili. I'm glad to see that the theatre has started to cast Attila Dolhai in more mature roles, too, because he's not exactly your basic 16-year-old Romeo anymore and he also sounds much better in operettas than in musicals. But I guess the fangirls and the financial dept. of the theatre just can't let go of their Romeo.

Melinda Hajdú (Clarisse) and
Attila Pál (Frédi).
© Katona József Színház

Miklós Máté Kerenyi (Frédi) and
Szilvi Szendy (Clarisse).
© Operettszínház

The production in the Katona József Színház in Kecskemét was performed on a bigger stage. My favourites were Géza Egyházi as Count Illésházy, Melinda Hajdú as Clarisse and Attila Pál as Frédi, but again the rest of the cast was good, too. Visually I liked this production a bit more, they really had created a gothic ghost-story like manor with pale light and slightly ragged furnishings. The production had a bit fairytale-like feeling in it, ethereal and beautiful but also amusing. There was also something surreal in it.

In addition to the nine actors, there were about 6-8 ghosts hanging around in the castle, mimically commenting the story and occasionally playing some tricks on the Baron and his company. They reminded me of commedia dell'arte characters and clearly were on the Count's side, even if he couldn't see them. In some way he was aware of their presence, though. In the first evening the "chamberlain" wants to have some fun and sings a ghost story about the castle, with the unseen help of the ghosts, after which the Baron and his guests are somewhat reluctant to go to their rooms alone. I wish there were a recording, I love the song and the scene, and Géza Egyházi had some excellent facial expressions in it. One moment that I specially adored was when after the scene the Count sat down on the stairs of the sleeping and half-dark manor, took out a cigaretta, and a ghost sitting behind him lighted a match for him. The Count looked at the match for a while with a slight WTF-look on his face, but then relaxed, lighted the cigaretta with it and started to smoke happily. It was so simple and so sweet.

Clarisse, Count Illésházy and the home ghosts.
© Katona József Színház
I also saw their derniere, in which the ghosts were even wilder than usually. They kept coming and going on the stage, doing all kinds of funny little things and goofing around. One (male) ghost for example stole Lili's red shoes and staggered across the stage in them. One ghost looked confusingly much like the Finnish Marshal Mannerheim, and in the derniere a Russian-looking lady ghost suddenly appeared out of nowhere and took him away with her, which would support my Mannerheim theory. I'm not quite sure what a Finnish President / war hero / etc. would do in a Hungarian manor, but the man looked way too much like him and Hungarian soldiers aren't usually dressed up like that on stage.

Anita Lukács as Lili. © Operettszínház

After claiming in several blog posts that I don't like fluffy and brainless romance in musicals, it's a bit funny to tell that I love operettas when their only point is to be as romantic as possible. I guess I like it how they don't take the romance too seriously while still being happy fairytales. Operettas are the soap operas of the pre-tv era, and they're all about decadence, interesting noblemen, actresses and actors, frivolous ladies and innocent girls and the romance between them - not forgetting beautiful and catchy music and talented singers and dancers. Operettas are my way to be escapistic, to forget everything serious and depressing and everyday-like and to float in a pink cloud where everything turns out fine and the princess gets his prince.

Production homepage (Operettszínház)
Production homepage (Katona József Színház)

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