While the ugly goblin Leander attends to his business in the forest, his pitch black tomcat stays home doing the housework,
cooking and cleaning goblin shirts. But when Leander comes home tired, the cat stretches out comfortably in front of him
and reads to him. Thus they live together in happy goblinhood, until one day, King Bölömber the Second mistakes the kitten
for a bloodthirsty rabbit, and shoots him with an arrow.
Apart from György Ránki’s The King’s New Clothes and the Mozartian Little Magic Flute, we have not really performed a great
many children’s operas. There really are not so many to choose from, so we must write some! The fresh and witty language,
humour and enchanting storyline of Andor Szilágyi’s 1993 fairy tale play are perfect operatic material, which one of the most
talented Erkel Prize-winning contemporary composers is setting to music at the Opera’s request.
“Zsófia: mother, wife, teacher, composer,” is how her former mentor, Emil Petrovics introduced her. This will not be the first
children’s piece that she has collaborated on. “I do not believe that the way to write is in a serious manner for adults and an
infantile one for children. I consider authentic, natural composition to be paramount – children’s audiences are especially
sensitive to this,” she says. Of the production’s director, Sándor Zsótér, she states, “He always says he doesn’t understand
music… But looking at his directing work, it is clear that he knows exactly what is happening, often better than those whose
profession music is.” One thing is certain: children and adults alike will be amazed.
Andor Szilágyi used the phrase family fairy-tale play to characterise that work of his which I have chosen to use as the basis for my opera. And that was in part the precise reason for my decision: I was looking for a story that would speak to big and small alike, and one in which parents who had come to accompany their kids would also find delight. The world of Leánder and Linseed is quite unique: born from the idea of Elek Benedek's fairy tale, The Wondrous Tree, it includes numerous folk-story twists; there is also in it the vague resonance of characteristically Hungarian ballads, somewhat of Vörösmárty's Csongor and Tünde; all the while they wax ironic and self-ironic, avoiding any appearance of pathos. In terms of language, it also harkens back to a vanished time: Andor Szilágyi enlivened it with many of his own linguistic inventions and coinages, which thus allowed me to compose for an odd, antiquated and delectable text.
Our outstanding film director, György Fehér defined the eternal truth as follows: the majority of operas start with the premise that here is a man, here is a woman, and something isn't right... This is also true for Leánder and Linseed: throughout the play we root for the two lyrical heroes with their fine names to find each other, although - and here I may be giving it away - the plot is so steeped with love that at the end, almost no one finds themselves without a mate. The stage is populated with colourful figures: a magnetic goblin, a witty servant, a hysterical but beautiful princess and her harpy of a lady's maid, a dandy suitor, a king and queen, a syrupy fairy, a secretive lake monster, and a gossipy pair of bats... And as is usually the case, in the end, everyone gets their just reward or punishment, even if not in the expected manner. The lively story constantly offers something to watch or follow, which hopefully means that it won't be a boring experience even for children accustomed to the frenzied tempo of today's visual culture.
As it consists of two acts, the performance may demand too much patience from children under eight. As a practising mother, I would suggest it primarily for the 8-14 age group, as well as for young adults who have successfully passed beyond the realm of adolescence, and parents and grandparents.
Zsófia Tallér, composer of the opera