Erkel Ferenc: Dozsa Gyorgy (1867)

Grand Opera in Five Acts. Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes.

This opera is a strange duck. It is considered to be the most malleable of Erkel’s scores, which meaning that numbers and entire sections of the work can be reworked, rearranged, dropped, added, without it harming too much because the plot is half-meaningless. Apparently after critics complained that the opera was too long at the premiere every performance from the second night onwards has really consisted just of highlights (the second performance was already heavily cut). This was the last of Erkel’s operas I had to review, so I went for the longest recording I could find. This is it although it definitely deserves better. The sound and the artists are fine, but this is only about two-thirds of the original opera (the second act, for instance, is only 13 minutes long).

There are some clips, amassing to around 36 minutes, of the 1994 staged production. I’d rather have seen that complete. I will try to place them where they are supposed to go.

SETTING: Buda and Timisoara, 1514. The title character was the Szekely leader of a peasant rebellion. He has since been seen as both a Christian martyr and as a mass murderer. In the opera he is basically a saint figure led astray by the treacherous noblewoman Lora Csaky. I think the basic plot is that Dozsa is an ennobled peasant who is hated by the nobles who are under his command on order of the King. Eventually he is so enraged by the nobles that he rounds them up and imprisons them but he falls for Lora Csaky who ultimately causes the murder of his fiancee Rosa and his eventual imprisonment.



ACT 1: Square before Matthias Cathedral, Buda. (28 minutes)

0: The prelude * is okay. It starts off dark and eventually ends in a climax.

4: The opening chorus is loud but a little underwhelm for some reason *.

5: Gyorgy is seen praying *, the chorus joins in **. (CLIP LINKS here and below are from 1994 production).

9: The King Ulaszlo II ennobles Dozsa and makes him commander of the national army in anticipation of a crusade against the Turks, but the court doesn’t accept him because of his peasant origins. Only the beautiful Lora Csaky and the nobleman Bornemissza  befriend him *.

12: Another lovely number for Gyorgy and the chorus **.

17: Doss’s fiancee Rosa and his friend Barna arrive from their village and tell him that it has been destroyed by Zapolya, a Transylvanian war lord *. This trio goes on to the end of the act.

ACT 2: The royal palace, a party. (13 minutes)

0: A jovial chorus of nobles *.

I think this is where THIS should be:

1, 6: A mezzo-soprano poet sings an anti-noble song *. The nobles get angry as Lora Csaky becomes embarrassed but the King forgives the poet and she/he (?) has a better go the second time around **.

9: An aria for Lora * with a slightly annoying trumpet following along, the chorus gets in on it for a semi-rousing finale.

ACT 3: Dozsa’s camp. (18 minutes)

0: A chorus ** led by the tailor Ambrus who tells the various craftsmen where they are to go which infuriates them. All of the leaders are enraged that the King has given command to the peasant Dozsa.

7: Zapolya arrives, his aria is rather tuneful **.

12: Dozsa arrives and has a confrontation * with Zapolya who tears the cross from Dozsa’s uniform and stomps on it.

15: Lora arrives in the camp and Dozsa leads troops for battle (?) against the nobles who think so lowly of him in a climactic finale or at least the closest thing this opera has to one **.

ACT 4: (35 minutes)

Scene 1: The hovel of a “Prophetess”.

4: The Fortuneteller scene isn’t really that interesting although Dozsa’s arrival make it slightly more interesting *. She predicts that he will win (surprise). Apparently Dozsa has rounded up and imprisoned all of the nobles.

6: Dozsa’s aria * as he leaves Rosa because he has become infatuated by Lora.

Scene 2: The plain on which Dozsa is encamped.

9: A furious duet between Dozsa and Lora as he holds her as personal hostage when he releases the nobles **. The nobles, led by Borna, decide to sit and wait for when Dozsa will be weakened by Lora and they will kill him.

Scene 3: Lora Csaky’s tent in the Dozsa encampment.

19: Rosa has overheard Borna’s plot and for some reason changes clothes with Lora *.

26: Rosa’s love song **, a distraction to lull Dozsa to sleep (apparently he thinks she is Lora?). This is one of the few numbers that actually got applause from the audience.

30: Dozsa awakens to find Rosa murdered by Borna *.

32: Rosa’s last love song *** as she dies and Dozsa is captured (notice the use of the cimbalom and harp). (This is possible the best moment in the recording). A military finale concludes the act.

ACT 5: Dozsa’s cell (20 minutes).

0: An enraged introduction leads to scene for Dozsa **. Lora arrives having bribed the guards and tell him that he can escape.

4: It turns into a full blown duet for Dozsa and Lora **, sort of.

7: The Apotheosis of Dozsa begins ***, the chorus (angels?) are heard as Dozsa dies (?).

12: Another part of the apotheosis *.

14: The finale ***, organ and harp closing.

What am I even talking about?


Through all of the cutting, one can see some advancement here from the earlier operas. The numbers are no longer closed units but rather semi-through composed. There are recitatives, but they are closer to those of Tannhauser than Italian opera. There are also leitmotifs, but they are more random in this cut down product. The second act is basically meaningless filler establishing only that Lora Csaky is bad news. The first act establishes the basic relationships of the opera apart from the growing relationship between Lora and Gyorgy. The third and fourth acts seem similar to the third act of Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete with touches of Sampson and Delilah. The fifth act is a traditional prison cell scene in which the soprano tries to save the tenor and fails, parallel to the one in Hunyadi Laszlo. The best music seems to be in the third act, the last two scenes of act four, and the fifth act. As it stands, I think the opera is probably a solid beta, but I would have to hear all of it.


3 thoughts on “Erkel Ferenc: Dozsa Gyorgy (1867)

    1. You have probably never heard anything by “Ferenc” before because he doesn’t exist. Think Eastern name order with Hungarians, his surname was Erkel, not his given name of Ferenc.

      The motion picture film of Bank Ban with Eva Marton as Gertrude, which I’ve seen twice, is good, and visually stunning, but cut by around twenty minutes (I think it is under 2 hours). As an example of the revised version from the 1930s it is rather exact. I used the live performance of Hunyadi Laszlo as a “second opinion” version when comparing the Hungaroton studio recording and referenced differences, of which there are several. It was good, the ending always makes me choke up. Apparently the production from Budapest has been touring Hungary for a few years.

      For both Bank Ban and Hunyadi Laszlo I used two or three recordings when writing up the reviews. The other Erkel operas are not so fortunate and I had to work with what is available. Dozsa Gyorgy is the worst example because a complete version probably doesn’t even exist in print form much less in viewable/listenable form since even by the second performance bits and pieces of it were being cut.

      Similarly to Moniuszko, Erkel is a victim of language barrier. Since Erkel is basically 90% of Hungarian opera (if one ignores the huge number of Hungarian singspiels and operettas and just looks at through-sung operas), he is the primary artistic victim.

      He is a very interesting composer since his works span the middle part of the 19th century (1840-85) so his first opera Batori Maria is basically an Italian bel canto opera with French influences that happens to be sung in Hungarian and his last opera Istvan kiraly is the Hungarian Parsifal. Also he wrote two comic operas! Although the first four and the last four have strong similarities to each other, each of the eight operas has a unique sound world.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess what I’m saying is that if you get a chance to see something by Erkel, do it. Even his worst opera is amazing (I know, I just reviewed ALL OF THEM!) and his best work is neglected world class material. He only suffers from Meyerbeer syndrome, that bizarre ability to induce a psychotic desire to cut pages of music in conductors who should know better than to tamper with perfection, thus causing dramatic incoherence. Hunyadi Laszlo is one of the fifty greatest operas ever composed, Bank Ban is in the top 100, Batori Maria, Istvan kiraly, and Brankovics Gyorgy float somewhere between top 300 and 500. The world doesn’t know this, but Hungary has for 150 years. If any of them had been originally written in Italian, German, or French, everyone would know them as we know Rigoletto, Die Walkure, and Carmen. I say that as someone who isn’t even remotely Hungarian and hardly knows a word of the language. And no, it isn’t the sleep deprivation talking! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s