Here we have two operas that essentially deal with a similar theme of selling your soul to the devil for worldly advancement. Both “The Rake’s Progress” and “Der Freischütz” were part of the five operas showcased last May as part of the brilliant Faust Festival.

Faust, performed again recently, is undoubtedly the star; a four-hour work of supernatural genius by composer Gounod with the ageing, cynical Faust giving his soul to Méphistophélès for eternal youth at the highest price.
The general plot follows the same lines for “The Rake’s Progress” and “Der Freischütz” but although strong operas in their own right, they inevitably lack the devilish charm of “Faust” and the full three-dimensional characters of Gounod’s opera who are given real depth.

But the moral is that dabbling in magic and stepping over to the dark side means our protagonists stand to lose everything. Selling your soul to the devil with no regard for the consequences is inevitably going to lead to a bitter end. This is a great tragedy as from the early pantomime days all those years ago, I always wanted the bad guys to win. They seemed to have more fun for a start. I loved the mesmerising recklessness of the wicked. And still do.

Controversial Ferenc Anger directs “The Rake’s Progress” where the highlight is Australian soprano Eleanor Lyons, who starred as fragile-as-crystal Mimi in Hungarian State Opera’s strikingly beautiful Christmas run of “”La bohème”. It is worth attending “The Rake’s Progress” just to hear this captivating singer.

“Der Freischütz” in contrast grasps for the elements of a great opera and Max is holding magic bullets, with the last belonging to the devil. He, like Tom in “The Rake’s Progress”, is ready to sell his soul. The modern set design is original but perhaps somewhat static and here lies a weakness in the staging.

“Der Freischütz”
“Der Freischütz”
“The Rake’s Progress”
“The Rake’s Progress”

Directed by Zsótér Sándor, “Der Freischütz” is an enormous challenge for any director to take on, with its complex plot and abrupt dialogue littering the musical score, which produces a jarring effect. This is perhaps the biggest single factor as to why it is not so frequently staged. It is a pity because the orchestral score is vigorous German Romanticism; strong and overpowering, the music directs us towards edgy supernatural forces at work across the opera stage.

And as the darkness lifts at the finale, so too are we in a lighter place.

Also from April 5 are various one-night guest performances in Erkel Theatre; productions range from “Tosca”, “La Traviata”, “The Magic Flute” and more. For more information visit the opera website listed.

“The Rake’s Progress”

Hungarian State Opera
Wednesday April 6 until Thursday April 21
Opera House, Andrássy út 22, District VI

“Der Freischütz”

Hungarian State Opera
Thursday April 14 until Sunday April 24
Erkel Theatre, II János Pál Pápa tér 30, District VIII

Tickets and information:
www.jegymester.hu/eng

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