„What life could have been..."


(The interview was made in April, 2010.)


We are guided to an excitingly colorful world by the artist, who has experienced both extreme hights and depths in life, and who is now a resident of Zsombó near Szeged with his wife and two daughters.
Lyrical poetry, flowing melodies, and singing are all equally natural manifestations of his art. By means of these he touches on questions of god and love, life and death, nature, depression, and peace of mind.
His poems fill us with wonderful music, whilst his stage performances shed beautifully deep complexity, and - in comic performances of opera buffa - a great sense of humor.


Opera singer, poet, teacher, and songwriter. Which one are you most?



By profession, I am an opera singer and teacher. This is what I do to support my family for the time being. Which suits me most? I guess I regard myself as a poet and a singer for the most part. Writing poems is the closest to me, and nowadays I find much pleasure in setting them to music and writing songs as well. Today, it is not easy to make one's living from any form of art, but I don't think it's true that your only real profession can be the one that gets you much money.




photo: Operaportal


Talking about your art, where does the sisterhood of poetry and music originate from?



My mother, as a teacher of music and Hungarian literature, used to sing songs to me even before I was born. 'Music is the most intimate means of  communication...' My father, a literateur and a director of a museum, also loved to sing. As for me, it is true that I could hum songs even before I could talk, and, according to my parents, I was in tune. I consider music and songs the most intimate means of human communication. These are what touch me most.



The complexity of your artistic and human depths is best shown during your special performing evenings, where you cross the boundaries between genres. How do you create the intimate atmosphere between artist and audience?



The evening dedicated to - and named - 'Music and Poetry' is a good opportunity to show the relations of these two forms of art, as well as of creator and performer. Here, the audience gets a chance to meet the writer and the performer at the same time. During these evenings I usually tell the story of how a poem was born, which is always interesting for the audience. It animates the poems and the songs by revealing the secrets of their mysterious birth.




In L'elisir d'amore with József Gregor

(photo: Zoltán Bátki Fazekas' private collection)


Could you mention some of these moments?



The poem titled On God's train, for instance, was written when I was seriously ill. One night, at about 3 pm I awoke to the fact that my heart was beating terribly fast, and my chest turned red. I grabbed a piece of paper and started to write... Later, it turned out that the piece of paper I wrote on was none other than my final report from the hospital. No wonder the lady at the clinic was at a loss the day after when she saw it. She stared at me and asked: 'On God's train... What on earth can this be?'
How the poem On the bank of the Tisza was born is also memorable. I was taking a stroll with my little daughter along the river Tisza. The gentle rippling of the tiny waves and the way sparrows fearing for their naughty youngs gave the inspiration and the pulsation of the poem.


Farewell kiss was born at the beginning of a big love. The poem, as an instinctive anticipation of the future, calls to bid farewell before the engagement. This is the lyric vision of the subsequent painful divorce.


This one literally frightened me. I was terrified to think that it might come true. I even lacked the nerve to take a glance at any of my poems for months.




As the Mute Servant with Zoltán Lőrincz in Pergolesi's 'La serva padrona'

(photo: private collection of Zoltán Bátki Fazekas)


On your CD your art is appreciated by recognized notorieties like Sylvia Sass and József Gregor, with whom you had the chance to work with. You also performed with other Hungarian opera singers of international reputation like Ilona Tokody in Puccini's La bohème, or Veronika Kincses and György Melis in Mozart's Così fan tutte.



Many people have influenced me throughout my life, but these were not all famous professional singers. I also mean my father, my mother, my grandparents, my teachers, my friends, and my colleagues. They all have influenced me, alhough I have to admit that it wasn't always easy, as I am an not an 'easy' character. I mean I have always been counted among the ones people usually refer to as 'difficult to handle' ever since I was a little child. I have fond memories of Valéria Berdál, my first mentor and teacher, a leading lyric soprano of the National Theatre of Szeged in the so-called Viktor Vaszy era. She was an excellent singer and actor, and also a very nice person and an outstanding teacher. She taught with so much love and such a strong sense of vocation that we even felt like we were close relatives of her. 'Valika holds the hands of her students' - as we used to say. I also have to mention my teachers at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest: Márta Ónody, Zoltán Horváth, András Békés directors and Kálmán Gyimesi opera singer, from whom I also learned a lot. Kálmán, for instance, has incredible experience by having sung about 130 roles. I guess it was him from whom I have learned most, as far as singing technique is concerned. I still visit him today, if I have the chance, to practice scales. We have also performed together in several pieces, such as Così fan tutte in Debrecen, and Bánk bán in Szeged.


'In hard times very few people can help...' But in hard times very few people can really help. My first great disappointment in love really broke me. I couldn't find myself for months but writing helped a lot. This was when the poem Lying in my prison was born.


At that time I was helped by my friend Béla Ugró, a poet, philosopher, teacher, and percussionist. He is a man of deep feelings, he had some volumes of his poems and dramas published. It was Béla who could bring me back to life then. He was an authentic and charismatic person who impressed me. When talking to seriously depressed persons it is always a big responsibility not to reopen old sores aimlessly but to offer a real therapy that gives them power. Poets are obsessed with getting immersed in the deepest bundles of a personality, they dive deeper and deeper into the human soul. Among my friends I have Zoltán Lőrincz, a bass singer in Szeged, a great personality, who gave me power in my quest for God.




As Papageno in Die Zauberflöte

(photo: Zoltán Bátki Fazekas' private collection)


Which operatic character can you identify with the most?



I sang Papageno in six different directions, Belcore in Donizetti's The elixir of love and Dandini in Rossini's Cinderella in three and Don Giovanni in two different productions. 'Acting is a natural element of my life...' I have just made my debut as the 'four baritones' in The tales of Hoffmann in Győr. I love these characters. I always love playing Mozart's baritone characters. I like to shape playful and humorous fellows, as well. Acting has been a natural element of my life since I was a child. For a long time I wanted to be an actor.



Almost the only means for an opera singer to get enough publicity is to find an opera company. However, it is clear that all such companies have serious problems in Hungary. How do you see the future and the place of Hungarian opera singers today?



A real artist can more easily bear the state of being ignored, as they are motivated by the urge to create something valuable, rather than mere success. Of course, it hurts to see when poems cannot reach their readers - for whom they were written - as fast as they should. The uncontrolled, reckless, yet highly resolute operation of mass media dulls people and spreads false values. Genuine, valuable works of art rarely get high publicity. For singers it is more difficult to bear the lack of professional recognition or acknowlegement. If there is no need for somebody, they will suddenly start to have difficulties making ends meet, and, in all probability, they will have to look for another profession. The last two decades brought serious problems resulting in a kind of degeneration of Hungarian opera life. The repertoire performances as such ceased to exist in theatres in the country, causing a considerable loss of spectators. The aimless, self-serving stagings of certain pieces also have their negative effect. Not that I don't like modern stagings, but I am convinced that forced modernism can easily dig the grave of an otherwise excellent piece. I also think that in today's Hungary it is the director who can make the grade. A creative artist, an opera singer or a musician can rarely rise to the top, which I consider wrong, because people buy tickets for the sake of the performer and the piece in the first place. True, that for today a large scale of different forms of art have become a means of destruction. Still, I believe in the eternal power of artistic creation as the last supporting pillar of the steadily perishing world of humans. They will be showing posterity for a long time what life could have been.



László Péterfi Nagy



’...pleasant bariton voice, profound articulation, excellent theatrical abilities... (József Gregor)