A Minute With: Conductor Fischer on his 'blood libel' first opera

Mon Oct 7, 2013 11:33am EDT
 
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - The shocking true story of a 19th-century "blood libel" in which Hungarian Jews were accused of murdering a Christian girl for her blood is the subject of conductor Ivan Fischer's first opera which is to have its premiere this weekend in Budapest.

The gruesome story, set to music in Fischer's one-act "The Red Heifer", is based on an incident in the Hungarian village of Tiszaeszlar, where Jews were accused of killing 14-year-old Eszter Solymosi in 1883 to obtain blood to make unleavened bread for Passover - a Jewish libel disseminated in the notorious anti-Semitic tract "The Protocols of Zion".

Some 15 Jews were tried and acquitted of the murder but the case stirred enormous waves of anti-Semitism at the time.

Fischer, who is Jewish, said the case continues to have repercussions to this day, when Solymosi's grave has become a pilgrimage site for Hungarians on the far-right.

"Like in the 19th century, Hungary is again a battlefield between enlightened people who would like to join the Western world, especially Europe, and nationalist fundamentalists who feel threatened and create scapegoats," Fischer told Reuters in response to emailed questions.

In program notes for the Sunday premiere in Budapest, Fischer said he had planned to write an opera based on the Tiszaeszlar affair in the 1980s, after being inspired by a film, but the filmmaker with whom he had hoped to collaborate died.

"I have been thinking incessantly about composing this opera for 25 years now," Fischer said. "The Tiszaeszlar Affair becoming a present day hot political issue finally helped me."

Here's what else Fischer had to say about finally finding the time to compose his first opera, and some other pieces which will also have their premiere, his musical influences and why Hungary seems to produce more than its fair share of musicians:   Continued...