King Pomádé: György Ránki’s children’s opera is a parody of power

On 115th anniversary of his birth, Müpa Budapest will present György Ránki’s first hit work, the children’s opera King Pomádé’s new clothes, based on Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Having composed his first works at the tender age of twelve, Ránki no doubt belongs in the canon of the most outstanding Hungarian composers of the 20th century, as he was not only one of the most prolific composers of music in the post-1945 Hungarian film industry, but also wrote symphonies, operas, ballets, orchestral and chamber works, as well as the first Hungarian musical, Three Nights of Love, premiered in 1961.

He pursued his studies with Zoltán Kodály and László Lajtha, who imbued him with a passion for folk music, which recurs in many of his works, including The New Dress of King Pomade. But he also had a similar understanding of light music and jazz, from whose elements he created a colourful, eclectic style: a musical language in which virtuosity and lightness go hand in hand. The quality of music does not depend on its genre, but on the quality and intention of its creator – as he has always maintained.

King Pomádé

The composer, who lived for two years in London and Paris, where he worked alongside John Halas, the father of British animated film, among others, worked on several occasions with the inimitable József Romhányi, whose music was whistled by several generations on the way from kindergarten to the schoolhouse of life. It was an effortless match for the two, since for Ránki, who was fond of drawing inspiration from the works of Hungarian writers and poets, irony and empathy were equally essential, as they were in the case of “Rhimaster”-“Rímhányó”.

These characteristics are evident in the arrangement of the Andersen tale, which thus finds its way into the hearts of both children and adults. Ránki originally wrote the play as a children’s radio opera in 1950, at the request of the Hungarian Radio, and three years later adapted it into a full-length stage work. The performance was a stunning success and won the Kossuth Prize, which in retrospect is perhaps surprising because Amy Károlyi’s lyrics lent the work a very metaphorical character during the period of the cult of personality.

However, it seems that the attention of the tyranny was lulled by the fairy-tale format, and by Ránki’s infinitely witty music, which did not shrink from grotesque and musical quotations, and which, combined with the composer’s legendary orchestration skills, made for a truly evergreen work. Ránki’s curved mirror threatens the bastions of hypocrisy and fear of the powers that be with the power of laughter, and his catchy melodies appeal to those who prefer light entertainment to a textbook tale. When the work was revised in 1972, the satirical social commentary was omitted from the version of the time, as was the love story.

Attila Toronykőy, the architect-turned-director, first staged the play, which has lost none of its freshness or lustre over the decades, at the Opera House in 2009, so we can be sure that on the last Monday in October we will be treated to a well-conceived performance at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall. In addition to the brilliant soloists and the Discantus Choir, the experienced director will be accompanied on this morning by conductor Péter Oberfrank, who often works with him, and the Sinfonietta Erudita, the same artists with whom he has staged the successful Operamatiné series, including the Nepp-Dargay-Romhányi performance of Szaffi.

Beware, the king is naked!

Article: Győző Nagy

Translation: Nóra Fehér