Bravo Budapest. Not long ago the Hungarian State Opera staged Balazs Kovalik's mould-breaking production of Peter Grimes. Now the Budapest Autumn Festival has served up at the nearby Thalia Theatre his original, punchy, lurid staging of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's ultra-Expressionist opera Resurrection – the first full staging since its (much less effective) Darmstadt première.
As Davies's grotesque "TV commercials" have it, "When the Sun turns black and the Moon turns red/ And the mountains move when you try to leave your bed..." The text hovers between Baroque Masque, Wozzeck and Auden's Paul Bunyan; the music, a kind of Henzean drolerie studded with brilliant allusion (Lutheran hymns, dance music, Stainer parody, grotesque pop) is no mere bizarre medley: it highlights the tensions being enacted on stage, where a "normal" child's adolescence is ritually buffeted and brutalised by the intrusions of school, church and the law into his very private world.
Munich-trained Kovalik was responsible for the Hungarian State Opera's new Bluebeard's Castle and directs Handel's Xerxes there next month. While he doubtfully ditched certain key elements – television screens for the adverts(enacted with flair onstage by an electronic pop/dance quartet), the crucial sausage-intestine dissection and some of the more the menacing underlay (which derives from Dürer's apocalyptic woodcuts) – the sense of momentum, zest, on-the-nub comedy and needle-sharp parody went straight to the Expressionist guts of Maxwell Davies's opera.
Resurrection's ingenious, tongue-in-cheek score was well served by an able conductor, Gergely Kesselyak, who paced it with a terrific thrust, plus a clutch of uniformly strong Budapest players, including spot-on brass; less so by the microphones, which tended to obscure some of the real score's finer detail, so lucid in Davies's own recording. The lighting – a scourge of prime colours – economical, Music Theatre Wales-like sets (Peter Horgas) and costumes (Mari Benedek and Zsuzsanna Dudas) were bitingly vivid. The dire mother's stylised walk – silent film crossed with Monty Python – and Nefertiti-like stovepipe headdress (shades of The Simpsons) hit the right note; the family lined up on a sofa at the start like a mid-European Royle Family neatly underlined the societal awfulness of it all.
Above all, this vivid Resurrection hinged on Daniel Varro's spirited Hungarian translation and a terrific cast: the countertenor Peter Barany, superbly cutting as Mam (and Zeus); actor Peter Takatsy as a brilliantly pliable, silent Victim/Hero; a superb bass, Tamas Bator, as the awesome fourth Surgeon; Peter Novak, a vocally swingeing if visually lumbering Cat; a spot-on Electronic Vocal Quartet; and the superbly unpleasant Sister, the mezzo Anna Molnar, a glorious singer whose transformation, by a sudden set-swing, into a grotesque Antichrist was one of the opera's high points. Such a vital piece of music theatre deserves to be snapped up by Edinburgh.Reuse content