“The Spinning Room” (Székely fonó) is a difficult one to assess; it is part-opera, part-theatre, part Hungarian folk songs. The set was dramatic, lighting and special effects compelling and energetic whilst the operatic singing was flowing and beautiful. But unlike the intense and gripping “Bluebeard’s Castle” by Bartók which holds you in its grasp like a bolt of electricity and snakes into your consciousness as the tension increases, “The Spinning Room” is constructed of Transylvanian folk melodies linked together through the orchestra. Kodály’s “Háry János” uses a similar layout of song interspersed with dialogue.
The composer weaves an intricate spider’s web of folk songs to create “The Spinning Room”, which actually appears more operatic than first glance suggests. This is aided by Michal Znaniecki, a highly renowned Polish director, who skilfully takes control of this operatic/theatrical production and turns it into a slick and intriguing masterpiece.
It is interesting to have Znaniecki directing “The Spinning Room” for two reasons: Kodály was part-Polish himself and because viewing a Hungarian work through the perspective of a non-Hungarian sheds fresh light on the piece, injecting it with a different dynamism.
Viewing “The Spinning Room” as a non-Hungarian is both a power and a curse. Hungarian is remarkably pure, delicate and melodic for opera, with every syllable clearly enunciated. However, I was left feeling that the traditions and folk music particularly in the prologue marked me out as a foreigner, no longer part of the international opera world.
The modern and dramatic set design by Luigi Scoglio linked the action swiftly aided by animation and lighting design by Bogumił Palewicz, all giving this production a contemporary twist. It could appear static without the magnificent set design and animation.
And there was an all-star cast from the Hungarian State Opera for the première, ensuring the very finest level of performance. As it is a long run, “The Spinning Room” has alternate casts; on the opening night Erika Gál, Andrea Rost, Levente Molnár and Pataki Adorján combined to ensure the production flowed effortlessly.
My only criticism of the evening is that the prologue by “István ’Szalonna’ Pál and His Band” would have been a good introduction but it was simply too long; 20 minutes would have been sufficient to warm up the auditorium and set the tone for the evening, but the hour or so they occupied the stage swallowed up half the running time.
For once I was within and without; absorbed in the theatrical piece but totally lost in the traditions and roots of Hungarian folk music. Unlike Italian or French I cannot completely surrender and feel as though I am living and breathing the opera, as it demands absolute concentration to sit through a Hungarian production.
I was completely alone as an observer of “The Spinning Room”; the sense of being a foreigner was overwhelming. The best comparison I can make is to be a lone Hungarian sitting through a Welsh-language production, with our own strange tongue, mystical folk tales and unpronounceable alphabet. There are also those words which remain stubbornly resistant to translation, as there are in Hungarian.
The Welsh word “hiraeth” is one; it is a homesickness but one which implies a longing for the land, the country itself, and it is difficult to express its richness in English language. “Hiraeth” was exactly the emotion “The Spinning Room” inspired within me. Not that this is a criticism of Kodály or the production on Saturday night; sometimes to feel like an alien is an enriching and dreamlike experience.
The Spinning Room
Until Sunday 23 October
(Times and casts vary,
see information link below)
Opera House, Andrássy út 22, District VI
Tickets and information: