There were two brothers - two dancers - in Communist Hungary. One defected, the other stuck it out. One gave his soul to commerce, the other to the Party. After twenty years, they meet again. And the dance begins.
Deborah Kara Unger
Given the cinematographer of this movie, it's probably not surprising that the visuals are superb. The directing is also first-rate, not stagy at all, but still managing to leave plenty of room for the singing. Csaba Káel managed to combine some of the best parts of film and opera. We get both the intimate moments that film is capable of showing, and the grand majesty of the chorus singing amidst a splendor of costumes and sets. Special kudos to Andrea Rost for making full use of this opportunity to act out the small things; her Melinda is completely human, a rare feat for a character in an opera.
The sound in the theater where I saw it was somewhat brassy, as if the volume was set louder than the capabilities of the speakers. Thus I'm not sure if the orchestra was really as overpowering as it sounded in places. This may or may not be something to improve upon.
Overall, the costumes were good at evoking a feeling of time and place, without giving more than a cursory nod to period-correctness. This is probably good, because the music itself is firmly planted in 19th century romanticism; true 12th century costuming would have felt wrong. I did have one minor nitpick with one of the guardsmen shown at the very end: he's wearing the usual opera shorthand for chain mail, something silvery-metallic. At the opera, this would work fine. When it's shown larger than life on a movie screen, it's downright jarring. If the production didn't allow for real mail, perhaps they should have avoided any notion of armor.
Two more very, very minor nitpicks: 1. The intermezzo part, with people dancing around a fire, was allowed to go on for too long. 2. The staging of Melinda's journey conflicted with the lyrics (they're singing of the difficulties of foot travel, all the while riding on a horse-drawn cart).
These criticisms are really very minor and inconsequential. Overall, the film is quite satisfying. The setting looks real (probably because, apart from one small interior, it was all filmed on location), the plot is nicely developed and explained, the roles are all well-cast, well-sung, and well-acted (there wasn't a ham in the bunch, which is a minor miracle), the special effects flow perfectly, and the music is gorgeous.
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