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087: Szeged+ opera. 2012/7/27

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[Szeged: more beautiful buildings and the opera = photo album]

Sleeping last night lacked both quantity and quality.  But a day had to start, and I began mine sometime past eight; after having some oatmeal, Reka woke up and offered some bread and other things before telling me that she would return to bed reading.

Today is distinctly hotter, as I was aware of upon starting out at around 9.30am.  However, walking in the shade remains agreeable, as there can be quite some lovely breezes at times.  I checked the train station – a lovely building, as someone commented upon LP forum or tripadvisor, and when I went to a ticket window I was told to go to the one assigned for international ticketing.  “But it’s closed,” I replied.  The clerk checked with a colleague for five seconds and told me that it would not open until 10am – “roughly,” she said.  My guess is that the clerk in charge of that window probably decided to show up later than she should, and without my asking, this theory was later confirmed by a tourist info clerk (very nice and somewhat surprised by this situation) and Reka.

Which means I would have to walk for almost two kilometers back later! (And two more kilometers back to the center subsequently, that is.)

Yesterday the sky was grey, and today the sunlight made everything come alive.  As I was taking dozens of photos, V called – on my very last day in Hungary.  It was very nice to talk after such a long silence.  (Obviously this mad person has been doing lots of crazy things, including enjoying Taiwan.  During the phone call V did mention one thing voluntarily: “A country is as good as its people, and I have never met people nicer than Taiwanese.” Oh yeah, this was when we talked about the potential of rip-offs when traveling, including when taxing a taxi, and V volunteered that he has NEVER been ripped off on a taxi in Taiwan.  NEVER.)

I walked a lot.  When I walked along Stefanica Street, I found an agreeable café taking the name of Stefanica.  The lady there has a very winning smile, and her male colleague speaks very nice English and is no less accommodating.  When I asked the lady whether they have wi-fi, she was more than ready to spell out the password for me, so I decided I might return later.  I checked everything, including the fine synagogue – luckily I arrived shortly before noon, since there’s a lunch break.  By the way, yesterday I took buckets of photos in the main church here, and that one is totally free; here the synagogue charges 400/200HUF to adults/students.  The synagogue is fine enough but definitely smaller.  Is it because that churches get funds from taxes while synagogues don’t, so that synagogues feel obliged to charge an entrance fee?  I would love to be enlightened about this.

Again, the “dom” church is a must.  It’s quite splendid.

I checking including the wine shop Reka recommended.  (“By spending the same price, you can get better quality things in a wine shop than in a supermarket,” she replied, when I asked her about getting Tokaij.) I checked a restaurant tourist info recommended, but they don’t have a set menu, and everything looks like twice as expensive.  Eventually I settled down for a gyros place – fine atmosphere of outdoor seats, fine prices, and several waiters and waitresses had English triple out of their tongues readily.

i wasn’t that interested in (or let’s say I’m “pretty selective about”) museums these days, but I still went to Reök: this venue has now two small exhibitions; one on Marilyn Monroe, the other some German modern artist.  I was not keen, even though the male clerk tried to tempt me by offering the cheaper student price.  I asked his female colleague, who spoke more English, about the exhibitions.  I also explained that I don’t care much about the exhibitions; I just wanted to see the (art nouveau) interior designs, and she quickly told me I could go check them as I wanted, and in that case I don’t have to see any of the exhibition contents.  That was very helpful of her.

After checking that pastry-café A capella again (I have to say that while waiters today are fine and more attentive, the desserts turn out not to be as enticing as Reka assured), I decided to go to my discovery “Stefánia Kávézó” – after all they have illy coffee at a no more expensive price, and the staff is so very nice.  I went their also for the wi-fi, which worked well enough, but perhaps their “Coffee Puccini” had a certain kick (and is pricier than its counterpart with some cookie dip or something at A capella), none of the three phone calls I made were very pleasant.  I ended up feeling rather disappointed in an annoyed way and decided I should really not spend so much time on making internet phone calls.  Sometimes people don’t move forward, and if I want to move forward, I have to do it by myself, and I have to make sure that it happens.

(Oh, and before I had lunch, I got an SMS from my Subotica host, the 56-year-old man who urged me to come visit and vowed to “welcome with all the foods and good wine as Serbians do”: he was suddenly taken ill and hospitalized and won’t be able to host for at least the coming week.  That’s a pity, even I had never actively been looking for a host in Subotica, partly because I thought it would be easier for a hostel rather than a private host to do the registration at the police station for me.  But I admit I had been looking so much forward to all the “foods and good wine”…)

A couple of days before my arrival Reka asked whether I would like to see an open-air opera, and I asked her the program; when I saw a webpage I finally understood when I failed to notice this when I checked the Szeged schedule several times earlier – it’s Cav & Pag , namely Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, but in most places the titles are written in Hungarian translation.  No wonder I didn’t notice.

(Oh, by the way, up to a couple of days before my arrival I kept receiving invitations – I think I got four or more.  I got probably no fewer in Novi Sad too, although one of them told me this morning that he just had an accident and wouldn’t be able to host; by “accident,” he actually meant he got his girlfriend pregnant.

More about hosts: I had been searching for hosts in Belgrade, Kosovo and Niš, but in Belgrade and even more so in Kosovo many male hosts specify that they “prefer to host females.” I soon gave up hope and simply left an open request.)

Yesterday when I saw the square where the opera is to take place, I immediately realized that it couldn’t be good – originally I thought there would be some amphitheater, but it was like that: they simply built a stage and all the seats against the “dom” church on the square.  That means everything relies on microphones and speakers, and that is really not a good way to operas or classical music.  (Believe me, I have seen that done in two different open-air places in Taipei, and I know what I am talking about.)

Before returning home I decided not to get the Tokaij, as I would need a bottle-opener and also some method to shut the bottle.  (I think I will just urge Balázs to send me some from time to time, haha.)  Instead I went to the supermarket to spend the changes, and at the exit I found an exchange with reasonable spreads; they can even sell and buy Serbian Dinars, so I changed the 1500HUF I had into RSD, but aside from the RSD bills the clerk gave me 25 more HUF: she explained that equals to 10RSD, but she doesn’t have a 10RSD bill.  In the end I spent 19 (meaning 20) HUF on a tiny bun.  (When was the last time that anyone can buy something with 20HUF (little mor than 2TWD) in Taiwan?)

I finally returned home at almost 6pm, much later than I planned.  Reka’s parents had already been there for a while – they drove from Budapest and would go to the opera too; in fact it was Reka’s father who invited me to the opera as well.  They turned out to speak no less English, and on the dinner table they asked some interesting questions, and I finally enjoyed a bit of cultural exchange sessions, which I haven’t had for some time – this is ironic, since most of the time I surf couches.

The operas turned out to be basically as bad as I thought, and I am not referring to the old man sitting in back of me, who either tapped with the tempo or even hummed together with the melodies.  Basically,

(a) the singers range from mediocre to somewhat bad;

(b) the production is third or fifth rate – the very provincial design involves a revolving stage, and someone obviously really wanted to show us that there IS a revolving stage, so the stage revolved six or more times before Santuzza had the chance to sing her big aria;

(c) microphones, microphones, and microphones.  I knew they would use microphones, but at least they could turn the volume DOWN.  And the singers should be taught not to shout, since they’ve already got the freaking microphones! Santuzza is an emotional role, for instance, but the soprano we had to listen to (somewhat shallow and not very focused) insisted on starting every phrase with onslaughts of melodramatic EMOTIONS, and all that barking was amplified.  In Cavalleria both the soprano and the baritone barked a lot, he with an even bigger volume and no better concentration.  (Oh, and a semi-fancy red car was hired for him.) Only the tenor provides a tad (a tad) of nuance, but while his voice is relatively more pleasant, I was wondering whether he doubled as the lead in Jackle and Hyde, also featured in Szeged’s open-air festival – at times he sounded as if he were singing Miss Saigon.
And singers should really be taught not to have two microphones come too close: Santuzza tends to advance vehemently to either the baritone or especially the tenor, and two microphones that are too close to each other ECHO INTO EACH OTHER.  (And in Pagliacci the lovers Nedda and Silvio were kissing into the microphones as well.)

(In the case of Rusticana, let’s not mention the acting.  Mama Lucia was obviously not blind and ran around the stage a lot, and so did everyone else.  I wasn’t watching most of the time anyway.)

I Pagliacci fared better, which I didn’t expect.  Well, one reason is that most of the time only the tenor lead was (made) too loud.  (Couldn’t someone pin the microphone on his toes instead of alongside his chin?) And the fact that the plot has a much more interesting design and flow helps, of course.  The production prides itself on hiring a circus acrobatic group, which had its merits and disadvantages: sure, we know the director wants to keep things on the stage busy, (which is why the stage revolves for no reason a billion times and why many choir members and even (supposedly silent) extras run around all the time,) and it’s kind of fun to see all the acrobatic acts and fire gigs, but it was almost as distasteful and meaningless as anything else in the production, and frankly if Canio’s company has all these acrobats hopping about, why the hell would anyone want to see their little play?

The event started at 9pm, and after the two operas finished (to both of which the audience clapped hands and even stamped feet to show their enjoyment) some host or whoever blah-ed for quite a while, obviously giving credits to various people and then introduced them to come to the stage, and then summoned the Rusticana cast.  That was really too much and rather distasteful.  I mean, just let the audience decide how they like certain things, ok?

As we walked home Reka said to me, “Isn’t the atmosphere [of such open-air operas] nice?” I’m always very polite, but it’s very difficult for me to lie about music, even if just to utter an acknowledging “yes.”

After I finished packing it was almost a quarter to 1am, and I had to catch the train at 7.50.  Luckily this time I could sleep on their absent male flatmate’s bed, to which I was really grateful.

Stefánia Kávézó “Coffee Puccini”:740


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