„I can state it: no one, not even a husband (wife), lover, friend, father, mother, child, and (if present) even the psychiatrist can’t know such deep and intimate secrets about an actor (actress), as the partner with whom they are rehearsing. This is the beauty of the theatre: Everything comes out about everyone. Who’s what kind of person, what is his opinion on the world, what goes through their minds. (It comes out as well, for instance, if there is nothing.)”
Darvas Iván: Lábjegyzetek 2001
When I was young I thought about my future roles to be dramatic extremes (even if at that time my vocal endowments did not predesignate me to any of these extremes), be it the dame of destiny, frivolous lady (foreshadowing my Operetta-period), or at least a suffering lyrical heroine, who goes through tuberculosis to her eternal reward (then Mimi and Violetta came, and unfortunately asthma came as well, if only for a few years). But mother, mother-role? No way! However, my fate decided that in the first year of my singing study I became a mother, my son grew up together with my career, the period of becoming an adult, a singer happened in parallel of growing up to the role of mother. For me these years brought experiences, sufferings, hopes that I could later express onstage, and for my son it was a childhood full of experiences and absolutely not a typical one.
The process of finding myself on stage was long, it took almost one and a half decade, and through this time I could act all kinds of characters, opera and operetta heroines. However, at that time I met only with one pseudo-mother role, in 1997 when I sang a run of the Queen of the Night – in whom the hunger for power is greater, than motherly love. Much later, after diverse stagings, I started to try to portray the human face of the character and paradoxically, for an auto-therapeutic reason. In 2009, at the time of Budapest premiere, I was led by an impatient, defiant yearning to stand out, an internal “hey, I’m here!”. Pamina was sung by the most successful lyric sopranos of the time, whom I could only look at pushed at the margin of the field, or so I felt at that time. Pure professional jealousy caused this energy pent-up in my voice and expression, and could be vented on them in the vengeance aria – and to my greatest surprise, the liked this very much! This was a therapy, their human and positive reactions pulled out the rotten tooth of my jealousy and instead of personal anger I could fill the role with more complex (and decisively more important) meaning. But I do not feel the mother in this role – the silhouette of a fierce queen who can’t bear any opposition is much stronger.
In the twelfth year of my career, in 2006 I got the first and until now still my dearest Mother-role in the most noble meaning: Melinda in Bánk bán. Later I found another, equally important and meaningful mother-heroine – Szilágyi Erzsébet in Hunyadi László whom I sang for the first time in 2013. These two Erkel roles grew on me in a particular way, and during the years the children who were growing up next to me became very important stage partners of mine. Many times I tried to analyse, what is that particular stage talent, that allows to emanate the opera’s plot deepest meaning both towards the partner and the audience. What makes the stage events believable, when the miracles happens, when I can experience real reactions of my stage partner and I can reply to them instinctively? Only this can make real human fates come into place and be the real crown of the “play”.
I’m active singer for twenty three years already, I met many great artists on stage, I experienced many “only once in a lifetime” moments, but nothing touched me as deeply as the honest, pure expressions in the children’s eyes, their visceral reactions onstage. I realised that I yearn to perform these roles more and more, to be able to live and sing through all the joy and suffering that are linked to motherhood in my heart. Looking at my stage children, each and every of them gave me some kind of exceptional, rare experience that I will remember forever.
Bánk bán 2006-2008
Kitti was my first child, and she was already experienced in the role of Soma, she performed it with more Melindas. It was her open attitude that remained in me very clearly. In the first rehearsals it came out that I was supposed to sing the arioso of the Mad scene to a pile of dry leaves, to underline the fact that Melinda is going crazy. And I should ignore my child who is being led offstage by Tiborc for the time of my singing as if it would be some troublesome factor. I saw this as a rather fat crack in the emotional and dramatic layer of the piece and as usual in such cases (to rather faint joy of stage directors and their assistants) I confrong the staging and at least try the version that I feel is right, at the given moment in the arc of building the role. During the rehearsals and during my conversations with Karola Ágai regarding the interpretation of this role, one thought became crystal clear to me: Melinda doesn’t want to bring her son with her to death. She wants to calm him down, put him to sleep in the raging storm (and this is why both ariosos are lullaby-like) and leave him in the care of Tiborc, while she is biding goodbye to her life. I asked the person who led the rehearsals if I can sing this folksong-like solo to my child, having him in my arms, caressing his forehead like I did to my son years ago trying to put him to sleep. The experienced assistant let me do this, but was closely following the reactions of Kitti who played the child, he didn’t want her to get confused to different interpretations and acting of different Melindas. There is always two-three singers for the role in a production and everyone else obviously keeps the original instructions. Finally, we could test all this “live” on the orchestra main rehearsal. There, for the first time, I experienced the child’s reaction that I admired so many tames later on: if you approach a child with genuine feelings and without a pose, you get real reactions in change.
I started to sing „Élt régen egyszer, két kismadár”, I caressed Kitti’s face, I held her close to me, she grabbed my chemise with her little hand and I felt, as her little body gets relaxed and heavier. She fell asleep, or got very close, so I could easily lift her up and lie her down on the stage. This trust – she didn’t know exactly, what will happen – and this wholeheartedness during the show always brings tears to my eyes. I always need to be cool-blooded at this point, so that I don’t let my tears win, because the scene is very long and I have really a lot to sing. In the course of the scene when it gets clear that Melinda is hallucinating and in the bird mentioned in the aria is really her own troubled soul, Kitti instinctively opened her eyes wide and drew away from me. In the end of the scene Melinda really hears the angels calling her – and for a religious woman this is the forgiveness and redemption itself. She sees the place where she can be safe and happy with her child. And this is why the last thing Melinda does is a choice of eternal, guilt-free Life and not that of Death and suicide. When I was jumping to Tisza I was radiating with this purely positive feeling and I only needed to draw my hands to Kitti and she rushed into my arms. She knew that I will fall into Tisza – marked with huge sheets – that she will be safe, she held her legs strongly around me and closed her eyes, putting her perfect trust in me. In the past 11 years, the mother-child relationship and this scene was always nearly the same, with some minor changes and I think it was mainly thanks to Kitti.
Bánk bán 2013-2014
The role of Melinda was the one that brought me the most of jump-ins, and this is obviously an additional difficulty for the children whom I play with. This is how I met Zizike – a tiny, incredibly fragile, birdlike little girl. Parents of Zizi are members of the Opera choir, and so they knew perfectly that one rehearsal is very little to immediately bring up the trust that I mentioned before. And because of this, they stood there in the aisle all the time emanating safety, which was very moving. This was another staging with another music material, there was more of the storm music and the whole scene was more restless. I held the child in my arms a lot, I sat down and got to my feet abruptly and Zizi in some wondrous honesty followed it all the time, and she perfectly obeyed the instructions I whispered into her ear in between the music. She accepted also the fact that she should not wear the coat with me, because it’s easier to hold her firmly like this. Her mommy told her, at which phrase ending she needs to get up from her dream and run into my arms, and she always managed this with impeccable timing. This was the first time when I realised how perfectly children can feel and follow the music. Even not singing, they become its part! In the very last scene, when they bring us covered with a sheet in front of Bánk and the King, we need to lay “deathly” still for long minutes, barely taking a breath. This was for me and I think also for the children the most difficult part of the role, demanding the bigest discipline. This is a horror-feeling, in all possible stagings, when for long-long time you barely can take a breath under the sheet covering your face and in the heat of the stage lights. In the aisle we lied down already during the previous scene, and I tried to convince Zizi to nest into my arm, so I can hold the sheet for her and she has enough air to breathe, without the fabric stuck to her face. Zizi (who saw me for the second time in her life), accepted this idea as something evident and natural, and so we half-slumbered the scene. Then and there I learned from Zizi how important is my open, protecting love with a child stage partner. Luckily, I could be part of this production for more seasons together with Zizike.
Bánk bán 2015
My last so far Bánk bán show at Hungarian State Opera was also a jump-in, this time I had to play Melinda with no rehearsal or talk with partners. Before the show Enikő was presented to me, who was – if even possible – even smaller, really a tiny figure, I couldn’t even tell her age in the costume. The stage assistant calmed me down that the little girl is a die-hard professional and knows everything, so I should trust her. I couldn’t do else, I just believed that everything will work out, my own play in the Mad scene as well. After the experiences of the past years, I always whispered or marked to her what will I do, and I was surprised to experience that Enikő in many places felt in advance what I will do. She was acting or lying relaxed in my arms like someone who exactly knows what will happen and what I am going to do. With awe I saw how this tiny girl brings me into a stage situation like a great singing partner. Not only is letting me guide her, but offers a sight, an expression, a movement that I can use – and so our acting together became real and unified in a second. Everyone who was there remembers that it was an exceptionally beautiful and inspired show, and it was in a great part thanks to Enikő.
Bánk bán Szeged 2017
New Bánk Bán – this time in Szeged, jump-in but with straps and pieces of rehearsals… First time I got an actual boy in this boy role. I argued for hours with the stage director, Judit Galgóczy, after I saw the DVD – she was another director who set hallucinating Melinda on stage, torn apart from the child and reality. The young Melindas in the previous shows played believably this variant, but I felt deprived of the real relationship that I can have with my child. And so with teeth and claws I fought for my own experience, a real relationship. In the end we came to a compromise, and I am thankful that Judit drew me from my usual path in the Mad scene and forced into other dynamics. Until then, I always went through the same emotional way and stations in all stagings and musical versions. In the interpretation of Judit, there is far more interaction between the three acting persons. Zoltán Kelemen in the role of Tiborc was all the time attentive, trying to protect me from the storm or the child – from me. Zsombor listened to „Élt régen egyszer két kismadár” sitting cross-legged in front of me. There was not a word about putting him to sleep, I needed to tell an interested and worried child, in the “bird-language”, all the tragedy that happened to me. At the rehearsal Zsombor sat down, looked at me with his incredibly sensible and huge brown eyes and for me the stage “performance” ceased to exist. I felt, I can’t get my eyes away from his, I need to trust Tamás Pál that he will accompany me – because at that point of the stage I really couldn’t see or hear anything, I couldn’t do else, I only held into these ever-growing, ever-deeper eyes and I just sang, softly and gently, so the magic doesn’t evaporate. In that moment, in Zsombor’s sight and in the faint half-smile on his face appeared such an expression of compassion and sympathy, that I only rarely experience even with grown up partners. This was something greater and more genuine than any emotional outbreak, my tears slipped out and I couldn’t hold them back any more till the very end.
Hunyadi László 2013-2014
When I found myself in the Hunyadi László series as the fourth Szilágyi Erzsébet, there was a professional little Mátyás to help me through the difficulties of not having enough rehearsals. Krisztián took part in the whole rehearsal period six months before and not only he helped me with his movement but also explained the reasons, the original instructions! The first time in my life I experienced that a boy who is barely ten years old can work in a system so well. He was always attentive on where can he help me, being it moving in the long cape (“be careful because they used to get ensnarled in the dress at this point”), or he told me to possibly spectacularly warn him not to play with his wooden sword during the oath scene. He was an experience Mátyás and I was debuting as Erzsébet, so the usual child-adult relationship was a little different. Krisztián was chivalrous and encouraging, more like a brother, absolutely not submissive. I could barely portray anything meaningful about the mythical Szilágyi Erzsébet, the nation’s widow known from the Golden Ballad. Actually I imagined a bit more mature Melinda, who doesn’t jump into Tisza, survives Bánk, later stands in the front of revolution, but all this time the children mean everything for her. Mature Mátyás of Krisztián fitted me very well, because it was him to portray the historically known, “great” Mátyás. Now, when we met again he’s already in the conservatoire and as tall as me, but he retained this open and self-confident attitude. The same thing crossed my mind, that does when I look at my own son: how on Earth the time passed so quickly!
Hunyadi László 2015-2017
I am sure that Déneske is a gift for me. I met him being in a very sensitive and vulnerable period, and we did together not only a couple of shows but all runs and rehearsals linked to them. This was really a lot time that we spent together and got to know each other thoroughly – and in the effect, we didn’t merely play our roles but we lived on stage. We enriched the relationship between Erzsébet and Mátyás with numerous tiny scenes, and in the last run we crowned it in the finale. After the cathartic execution Erzsébet doesn’t run off from the stage, but stands firm in the scene, looking at the destiny bringing the crown to Mátyás. Honestly I am grateful to the stage director of this production, because it gave me a new mother-role that I could experience and live-through. Traditionally Mátyás is a Hosenrole and the area of young mezzos, and I’m aware of it – but for me, this staging gave an opportunity to portray a character of a more mature mother.
When I met the children for the “Stage Mother’s Day” celebration, I could acknowledge, not without a surprise, how differently time passes in the stage life and in the real one. Melinda or Szilágyi Erzsébet will never get old, and are present in me and in my life even when I don’t have a chance to sing them. However, my stage children grew up and I was happy to see and feel that for them our mutual stage experiences meant a lot as well.
But I can say for sure that it was me who learned most from them, about the purity and simplicity of the stage existence.
[…] the Opera House, but also in her most important mother-role, Melinda in Bánk Bán. As we can read in an essay of hers, “nothing touched me as deeply as the honest, pure expressions in the children’s eyes, […]