The Arty Semite

Blood Libel Opera To Premiere in Hungary

By Michael Roddy (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.

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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.

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'Tis the Season to Be Classical: Unmissable December Concerts

By Benjamin Ivry

While Hanukkah preparations and aftermath can overshadow every other human activity in December, ‘tis also the season for classical concerts, especially although by no means exclusively, in the New York area. These can include much Yiddishkayt, despite the seeming omnipresence of Handel’s “Messiah.”

Mahler-lovers will not want to miss the much-loved British conductor Sir Colin Davis leading the New York Philharmonic in performances on December 2, 4, and 7 of Mahler’s orchestral songs, “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Although born in 1927, Sir Colin still conducts with a balletic grace which vivifies everything he interprets.

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