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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Kodály: Hary János

08/10/2014 1:00 pm
08/10/2014 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Way back in late Summer of 1982, I remember broadcasting on two London LPs the complete music for the comic opera Hary János (1926) by Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967). Kodály's orchestral suite derived from the opera is much more frequently performed and recorded.

The complete music was taped in 1968 for Decca/London. Hungarian conductor Isztvan Kértesz came to London to record Kodály's masterpiece, bringing with him a cast of native Hungarian singers. Kértesz led the London Symphony Orchestra and Edinburgh Festival Chorus. The Singspiel-style Hungarian language dialog was omitted altogether.

What makes this British recording so wonderful is its English language narrator, that comic genius of an actor, Peter Ustinov. He also voices the part of Hary János, the bombastic village storyteller. If he sneezes on purpose, it's a signal to his listeners that his story is pure fantasy. You actually hear the sneeze in Kodály's music. Ustinov's audio characterizations of various figures in the stories, especially the drunken Empress Maria Teresia, I say, are still hilarious to listen to today.

A quarter century down the line in opera broadcasting, I again aired the old London LPs on Sunday, July 8, 2007. Since then the 1969 London Hary János has reappeared in compact disc format in a four-CD Decca compilation that includes Kodály's orchestral works and the choral Psalmus Hungaricus (1923). The 2010 Decca reissue is what you will hear today.