The Composer Discovery Initiative
Composer: Emil Petrovics
Language and translations: Hungarian
Performance Notes/History: This piece was first performed as a concert work (it’s heavy use of chorus makes it more of an oratorio) and was first staged as an opera only in Budapest in 1971, then again in 1974 in Berlin.
Length: 1 act 45 mins
Cast (with debut or notable):
Lysistraté (sop): Veronika Kincses
Female Chorus Leader (col. Sop): Magda Kalmár
Male Chorus Leader (tenor): Sándor Palcsó
Orchestration: Full Orchestra
Genre: Comedic concert opera
Stylistic Features: As it was premiered the same year as Petrovics’ one-act masterpiece, C’est la guerre, Lysistraté shares definite stylistic unity and even opens with the same sort of orchestral ejaculation as the earlier work. There is also a heavy use of motive, similar to the technique employed in C’est.
Publication Info: Score published by Edito Musica, Budapest
Recordings: 1977 LP recorded by Hungaraton with the Chorus and Orchestra of the Hungarian Radio and Television conducted by György Lehel
Notes/Reminders to Self: The opera is divided into three parts and ten scenes.
The opera opens with same sort of rhythmic and orchestral ejaculation that opens C’est la gurre. This opening musical material acts as an incantation hailing sweet Peace, and begging this female goddess to bless them. It recurs again verbatim in praise of Lysistraté after her plan of withholding sex from men brings and end to the war.
Petrovics’ command of choral writing, already successfully worked out in the 1958 cantata Egydűl az erdőben is used to brilliant effect in the opera. He uses a variety of choral techniques, from imitation to fugue
This is an opera all about cock – how both men and women are slaves to it. The references to erections in the opera are much more subtle than in the original play, mostly musical but some verbal, but they are pervasive. So much so that the main recurring motive of the piece is associated with it. Let’s call it the ‘erection motif’. It is a series of triplets, ascending (obviously and erection) when the men sing it, and descending when the women sing it (feminine desire for and sexual power over cock). The first time we hear the motive already indicates the double entendres, both musical and verbal, that permeate the work, with the choral melisma on the word “eel”… The first strong sexual connotation of the motif is given to the female choir leader in the oath scene, alluding to how hard its going to be to withhold sex from men (i.e. desire for cock). The motif next appears played languidly by the orchestra in the opening to ‘Férfi kellene’ where the women are suffering from lack of sex as much as the men. They rally, however, after boosting themselves with the ‘Ditty about the Female Sex,’ reaffirm their stance and use it as a tool to taunt the men and fuel their already frenzied sexual desire in the finale of the second part. As the scene builds, Lysistraté sings to the gods Eros and Aphrodidte to cause the men such lust for the women they should be strained by wild desire (followed with the descending motive to drive it home) and that their sticks should stiffen. The second time she sings it the men respond indignantly, but the second time their drive is so high the don’t respond with words, but with a series of “Uhs” on descending fourths, the top note always accented, indicating them bending over to conceal their erections (more on that later) and also moans of pent up sexual desire (are they edging?). When the choir leader takes it up, it is of course ascending, and all the way to the very top of his tenor register (in effect yelling) obviously alluding to the constant erection he is suffering from. In the next scene, ‘A Férfiak nyomorúsága’, the male choir sings that they are in agony, and have to walk all over town hunched over like lantern bearers, obviously to conceal their tumescence, declaimed rhythmically while above them the choir leader is singing ascending coloratura on ‘”jaj” and “ah” – those pesky erections always sticking up. That scene contains the last overt reference to the male member, for they end the war and with it the female sex boycott, celebrated in an exuberant aria for the tenor, with lots of thrusting rhythms in anticipation of his reward for peace.