Erkel Heroines (2023)
Erkel (2023)
Erkel (2023)

During my 30-year career, I have performed many of the leading Erkel roles on stage and in concert, to considerable critical and audience acclaim, and I have mastered all the vocal tools that characterise these wonderful but very special arias.

As a follow-up to my professionally and internationally successful Bel-Canto Reloaded CD, released in 2014, I wanted to create a disc with Erkel arias, where I could present the bel canto style in the context of Hungarian national operas.

We were able to record the music in January 2023 at the Phoenix Studio in Diósdi, where my previous album was also recorded. The music director was Ibolya Tóth, winner of the Ferenc Erkel Prize, and the recording was conducted by the Hungarian Studio Orchestra (concertmaster: Balázs Bujtor), conducted by my husband Dániel Dinyés .

The programme of the album focused on solo scenes from László Hunyadi’s Erzsébet of Szilágyi and Melinda of Bánk Bán, which I have had the privilege of singing on stage and in concert many times in my career.

Originally, the programme would have included arias from two early works: the operas Erzsébet and Bátori Mária. I have had the opportunity to perform and record these in concert performances organised by the Hungarian State Opera House, and they are available both on disc and on Spotify. Instead, we decided to register two rare arias that are new to my repertoire: Mara’s Romance from the opera about the Serbian despot György Brankovics, and the aria of the main character, Crescimira , from Erkel’s last stage work, King Stephen. In this way, we can sketch the composer’s entire oeuvre, showing the vast arc that Erkel’s compositional style has traversed over the years: the early, highly melismatic, bel canto-inspired solos gradually become more declamatory monologues with more complex harmonies. In Crescimira’s aria particularly one can note almost Wagnerian harmonies, which were not at all characteristic of Erkel’s earlier works.

Erkel’s great sense of orchestration can also be observed in his earlier operas: already in Hunyadi there are many solo, concertante instruments, and in Bánk Bánk the orchestration is quite unique, the cimbalom and viola d’amore (Anita Inhoff) are in fact main characters, and we have tried to emphasise this on the recording as well.

Although we appreciate the great adaptations of Kálmán Nádasdy, which are dramaturgically much more concise and the texts are often more understandable and contemporary for the spectator, we decided to register the arias from Bánk Bán and Hunyadi László in the original version. This decision was preceded by a long period of reflection: would the listener be able to absorb the older text of the original version, the significantly longer and more complex musical material? Erzsébet Szilágyi’s entrance aria or Melinda’s scene of madness in the original version are musical units of more than ten minutes. Fortunately, the answer arrived the audience.

I sang Melinda of Bánk Bán for the first time in 2006 on the stage of the Hungarian State Opera House, in Nádasdy’s version, directed by Imre Kerényi. Later, in November 2010, the original version was performed in concert and broadcast on television. Then followed the Nádasdy-original hybrid version in 2012, directed by Csaba Káel, and in March 2017 I had the pleasure to play the role of Melinda twice at the Szeged National Theatre, directed by Judit Galgóczy, in the original version. The audience enthusiastically welcomed this original version, familiarising themselves with melodies they had rarely or never heard before.

I experienced the same thing at the premiere of the original version of Hunyadi László in March 2022. The show – the music being over 3 hours plus long intervals dictated by the complex staging technique – initially lasted 5 hours, a duration perhaps only usual for audiences socialised on Wagnerian works – yet the performance was played to full houses for the second time this year, with long series, huge audience success and a favourable critical reception.

Therefore on the album we also include the original version of Erzsébet Szilágyi’s entrance and La Grange aria, the aria Ölj meg engem, Bánk” from Bánk Bán and Melinda’s mad scene. We hope that they will appeal to the audience also on studio recordings.

So far, no portrait album of Erkel arias has been made, and I have seen a great deal of interest also abroad, which I have not been able to reciprocate with recordings. I believe that the scores contain a hidden national treasure, which it is my duty, our duty, to make known to the world at large.

Klára Kolonits: Erkel

source: Surprisingly, no opera singer has ever dared to limit himself to Ferenc Erkel works for a solo album. So far. While the pioneer of Hungarian music has his merits, his Bánk bán and Hunyadi László are full of dramaturgical problems, of inconveniences concerning the libretto or even the possible singing articulation of the text, which all the well-intentioned directors and theatre-makers have not been able to fully remedy. Klára Kolonits’ new disc reveals the composer’s merits: inspired by …