Le beau idéal in Hungary: The reception of the modern French singing style in Budapest

By Ferenc János Szabó

3 March 2021

Hungarian National Theatre, 1875 (photo credit: Fortepan / Budapest City Archives / Photos of György Klösz)

Hungarian National Theatre, 1875. Credit Fortepan, Budapest City Archives, Photos of György Klösz.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Budapest – as the second largest but the fastest growing city of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy – had a vibrant cultural life. The political background of this prosperity was framed by the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and the creation of Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, in 1873 from a merger of three neighbouring cities around the Danube: Pest, Buda and Óbuda. In the subsequent years cultural institutions were established in Budapest. Several new theatres were opened between 1873 and 1914. The music-theatrical genres (opera and népszínmű [folk play]), along with the spoken drama, had their home initially in the National Theatre, founded in 1837; however, in 1875 a new theatre was opened for popular folk plays (Népszínház [People’s Theatre]), and in 1884 the operatic ensemble also separated from the National Theatre and went to the new Royal Hungarian Opera House. Another sign of the new cultural era was the opening of the Music Academy, founded by Franz Liszt, in 1875. Before the establishment of the voice faculty in 1882, opera singers were trained at the School of the National Theatre (founded in 1865); however, from 1887, the training of opera singers became part of the curriculum of the Music Academy.

The Royal Hungarian Opera, 1910s (photographer Károly Divald), with permission from the archives of the Hungarian State Opera

The Royal Hungarian Opera, 1910s. With permission from the archives of the Hungarian State Opera. Photographer Károly Divald.

At the time, for obvious historical reasons, both the cultural life and the music education were German-based in Budapest. The operatic repertoire of the National Theatre and, after 1884, the Royal Hungarian Opera contained a few French opéras-comiques (for example, Carmen by Georges Bizet, Mignon by Ambroise Thomas, or Manon and La Navarraise by Jules Massenet); however, neither could the female main roles be easily cast, nor could the performance style of these works be considered true to Parisian performance traditions.

The Hungarian premiere of Carmen (28 October 1876) can be considered a very early one in its performance history: it was the sixth stage production of the work and the first one which was not in French or German. Bizet’s name and the early reception of his work were not unknown to the Hungarian audience: the news of the unsuccessful world premiere reached the Hungarian press which stated that ‘Bizet is a believer in Wagnerism and, as such, has failed twice. After all, Paris is not a soil for the Wagnerian music.’1 Later that year, the Hungarian newspapers informed the readers about the early death of the composer in a few sentences,1 and about the Viennese premiere of Carmen. ((See, for example, ‘Carmen’, Fővárosi Lapok, 27 October 1875, p. 1098.)) Several Hungarian notorieties attended the performances in Vienna, one of whom was Count Albert Apponyi (1846–1933), who recommended the piece in a letter to the Hungarian National Theatre.2 He was obviously not aware of the fact that it had already been decided at the beginning of the 1875–1876 season that Carmen would be premiered at the National Theatre,3 and that the scores had arrived in Budapest in September 1875, that is, even before the premiere in Vienna.4 The Hungarian audience was also familiar with the novella of Prosper Mérimée, translated by Paula Beöthy, which appeared in the column for foreign short stories of the newspaper Fővárosi Lapok from 1 to 15 October 1876.5

After the premiere, Carmen became extremely popular in Hungary. There were at least 18 Hungarian productions between 1876 and 1920, 12 in five theatres of Budapest, 2 in Kolozsvár (today Cluj), and further productions in Pécs (1900), Szeged (1902), Debrecen (1908 or earlier) and Újvidék (today Novi Sad, 1909).6 Carmen reached its 100th performance at the Royal Hungarian Opera on 20 May 1907. The aria of Escamillo was even recorded by Sándor Veress (1859–1913) during the first recording sessions of The Gramophone Company in Budapest.7

Soubrette, Wagnerian and veristic Carmens at the Royal Hungarian Opera

Already before the Hungarian premiere, a Hungarian journalist wrote that the success of Carmen, similarly to Mignon by Ambroise Thomas, depended on whether there was a suitable performer in the main role.8 He even criticised the first Carmen of Vienna, the Hungarian-born Bertha Ehnn, stating that she lacked the temperament of the wild gipsy girl.9 The main role was created in Budapest by a Hungarian soprano, Katalin Náday, and several Hungarian and foreign singers appeared in the subsequent productions at the National Theatre and at the Royal Hungarian Opera before 1900, such as Vittorina Bartolucci, Gina Oselio, Hermina Braga, Mira Heller [Olszewska], Laura Hilgermann, and Margit Wein-Ábrányi. Carmen even became a stellar appearance of more or less known guest singers in the Hungarian capital city: Irma Reich[ová] (1884), Emma Steinbach (1886), Gemma Bellincioni (1887, 1888, 1898), Adalgisa Gabbi (1887), Adél Vaszilievits (1890), Adèle Almati (1891), Arabella Szilágyi (1892), Sigrid Arnoldson (1898–1907), Irma Spányi (1898), Della Rogers (1900), Laura Réthy (1901), Charlotte Wyns (1901), Franceschina Prevosti (1902), Zîna [Marguerite] De Nuovina (1902), Emma Calvé (1904), Theresa Rothauser (1905), Mme Charles Cahier (1905, 1911), Kirkby Lunn (1906), Emmy Destinn (1907), Margarethe Matzenauer (1909) and Maria Labia (1910) all sang the ‘Habanera’ on the stage of the Royal Hungarian Opera at guest performances; furthermore, the role was chosen for debut performances of young Hungarian singers like Elza Szamosi (1903), Valentina Képes (1905) or Aranka Naibert (1907); the latter two appeared only once at the Royal Hungarian Opera.

Katalin Náday as Carmen, 1876, from the archives of the Hungarian State Opera

Katalin Náday as Carmen, 1876. With permission from the archives of the Hungarian State Opera.

Initially, the role of Carmen was the territory of singers with lighter soprano voices: the first Hungarian Carmen was a soubrette-primadonna, Katalin Náday (1851–1935).((Tibor Tallián, ‘A Magyar Királyi Operaház’, in György Székely (ed.), Magyar Színháztörténet 1873–1920 (Budapest: Magyar Könyvklub – Országos Színháztörténeti Múzeum és Intézet, 2001), pp. 54–101, at p. 86.)) Carmen was her first serious role at the Hungarian premiere, and one year later she became the first Hungarian Mignon as well (11 October 1877).((Before Katalin Náday the role was sung in Budapest by Minnie Hauk and Bianca Donadio at their guest appearances.)) With regard to her voice type and singing style, it is telling that later her most successful roles were Pamina and Amelia (Un ballo in maschera).((‘Náday Ferencné Vidmár Katalin’, in Aladár Schöpflin (ed.), Színművészeti lexikon. A színjátszás és drámairodalom enciklopédiája. Vol. 3 ([Budapest]: Színészegyesület, [1929]-1931), pp. 308–309.)) Her only experience of the French repertoire must have been operettas by Jacques Offenbach and Charles Lecocq in Hungarian adaptations. Consequently, it is not surprising that her portrayal of Carmen was criticized for her lack of passion.(((K.), ‘»Carmen« első előadása’, Fővárosi Lapok, 31 October 1876, p. 1175.)) The basis of the critics’ judgements was obviously their reading of Mérimée’s novel and their experiences from Vienna. By contrast, the journalist of the Pester Lloyd found the interpretation of Náday too realistic; however, according to the review, it also conveyed an impression of the operetta: ‘the excessive realism is very dangerous in the case of opera because it makes the boundaries between opera and operetta insecure.’((‘Noch einige Worte über »Carmen«‘, Pester Lloyd, 31 October 1876, Beilage, p. 1.)) Based on the reviews, the interpretation of Náday was halfway between a serious style – whatever that means – and operetta.((‘Noch einige Worte…‘, p. 1.)) This latter impression was further supported by the fact that, in Budapest, Carmen was first performed with spoken dialogues.((‘(Nemzeti szinház.)’, Pesti Napló, 5 June 1881, p. 3.)) In consequence, journalists identified several elements of operetta in Bizet’s opera;(((K.), ‘»Carmen« első előadása’, p. 1175.)) the critic of A Hon [The Homeland] even stated that the music of Carmen is ‘so to say, a dramatization of salon music, easy rhythm and melody weaving into a piece of music.’((‘Nemzeti szinház’, A Hon, 29 October 1876, p. 3.))

Vittorina Bartolucci as Carmen, from the archives of the Hungarian State Opera

Vittorina Bartolucci as Carmen. With permission from the archives of the Hungarian State Opera

When the version with sung recitatives was premiered in 1881, Náday temporarily gave up singing the role, claiming that its tessitura was too low for her.((m. s., ‘Nationaltheater’, Pester Lloyd, 5 June 1881, Beilage, p. 1.)) After that, as Tibor Tallián stated in his chapters on the history of the Royal Hungarian Opera, the role of Carmen was transferred to the repertoire of singers more familiar with the roles of Ortrud or Brünnhilde.((Tibor Tallián, ‘Intézménytörténet 1884–1911’, in Géza Staud (ed.), A budapesti Operaház 100 éve (Budapest: Zeneműkiadó, 1984), pp. 63–116, at p. 109.)) The Italian mezzosoprano, Vittorina Bartolucci (1859–1915) was often criticized as Carmen due to her more serious, heavier and ‘operatic’ singing style that made her a lauded Fidès, Amneris and Azucena and, later, Erda and Waltraute.(( m. s., ‘Nationaltheater’, p. 1.)) In her interpretation, the ‘full-singing’ Carmen became a serious, somewhat artificial woman; as the critic of the Pester Lloyd formulated: ‘Carmen demands an extremely light appealing voice and an agile, spirited presentation [Vortrag]; Ms. Bartolucci’s expressive, somewhat heavy manner of performance may be appropriate in the grand opera, but here it is just damaging.’((m. s., ‘Nationaltheater’, p. 1.))


From 1884, for at least a short period, the role of Carmen was performed mostly by guest singers (see the list above). It seems that the Hungarian singers did not try to perform Carmen at the Royal Hungarian Opera: only the Czech Irma Reich (1859–1930), the Polish Mira Heller (1866–1920) and the Norvegian Gina Oselio (1858–1937) sang the role as a member of the Opera troupe between 1884 and 1892. Their portrayals did not meet the critics’ expectations. Although Irma Reich sang the role in Hungarian, which was always acknowledged by the press, the role was too high for her and her portrayal was too bold and wild for the journalists.((–k.–, ‘(A nemzeti szinházban)’, Pesti Hirlap, 30 May 1884, p. 4.)) Mira Heller sang the role in Italian, along with the Italian Don José, Francesco Runcio, and only her charming appearance was praised by the press.((‘(Opera.)’, Budapesti Hirlap, 27 September 1891, p. 3.; ‘(Az operaházban)’, Pesti Hirlap, 27 September 1891, p. 6.)) For Gina Oselio it seemed that the role was too hard with journalists guessing whether she was still studying the role, and criticizing her acting as based only on vulgar coquetry.((‘(A m. kir. operaházban)’, Pesti Hirlap, 18 June 1886, p. 4.; ‘Uj »Carmen«’, Fővárosi Lapok, 18 June 1886, p. 1217. She performed Carmen two years later in Copenhagen and in 1891 in Kristiania where her reception was similar. See Ulla-Britta Broman-Kananen, ‘A Woman or a Demon: Carmen in the Late Nineteenth-Century Nordic Countries’, in Langham Smith and Rowden (eds.), Carmen Abroad, pp. 245–260, at pp. 255–256.))

Although Laura Hilgermann (1869–1945) brought a somewhat new colour to the role in 1893, it mainly concerned her acting. Her more naturalistic gestures, for example, blowing smoke under Don José’s nose,((‘(M. k. operaház.)’, Pesti Hirlap, 5 November 1893, p. 6.)) originated from the performance style of the verismo. Nevertheless, her singing style remained in the territory of the Verdian and Wagnerian performance; consequently, her voice was praised for its beauty, but criticized for being heavy and not being seductive enough.((‘A m. kir. operaházban’, Egyetértés, 5 November 1893, press clipping in the Press collection of the Archives of the Hungarian State Opera; ‘(M. k. operaház.)’, Pesti Hirlap, 5 November 1893, p. 6.)) It is telling that one of the journalists even joked about the length of the performance, stating that he almost thought that it was a performance of a Wagner opera.(((Z–y.), ‘Opera’, Honvéd, 5 November 1893, press clipping in the Press collection of the Archives of the Hungarian State Opera.))

After director Artur Nikisch left the Royal Hungarian Opera in 1895, Carmen was not performed for some years. Welcoming the new production – and a new Hungarian Carmen: Margit Ábrányi-Wein (1861–1948) – in 1898, the critic of Budapesti Napló already considered Carmen a ‘forerunner of the whole modern Italian-French School,’((‘Carmen rediviva’, Budapesti Napló, 16 February 1898, p. 9.)) which very likely concerned the verismo of the giovane scuola and Massenet’s La Navarraise, premiered in Budapest in 1894.

The Modern French Theatrical Art in Budapest

As it is clear from these different judgements, the Hungarian critics could not define the style of Bizet’s Carmen: in about 20 years it moved from operetta to verismo, which obviously means that the performers, no matter how excellent they were, did not have experience of the specific interpretation style of French opéras-comiques. The modern French operatic performance style was not known in Budapest until the turn of the century. The Hungarian audience was introduced to the modern French theatrical art at the guest appearances of French troupes such as that of Sarah Bernhardt, and Benoît Constant Coquelin (1841–1909) in the 1880s.((László Nyerges, ‘Francia és olasz vendégjátékok’, in Székely (ed.), Magyar Színháztörténet, pp. 424–450, at p. 426 and 428.)) Anna Judic (1849–1911), labelled in Budapest as ‘the adored soubrette of Paris’, met with success with her natural performance of chansons, devoid of superfluous frivolity and exaggeration.((Nyerges, ‘Francia és olasz vendégjátékok’, p. 429.)) From 1893, Yvette Guilbert (1865–1944) returned to Budapest again and again, and charmed audiences with her clear pronunciation and dramatic portrayal.((Nyerges, ‘Francia és olasz vendégjátékok’, p. 429.)) The style of André Antoine (1858–1943), the naturalistic reformer of French stage acting, was presented by his pupil Marcelle Josset, who appeared in Budapest in 1897.((Nyerges, ‘Francia és olasz vendégjátékok’, p. 430.)) In his style, naturalness took the place of the traditional and old-fashioned stage gestures; the empty declamation and singing-like diction gave way to everyday speech.((Tamás Bécsy: ‘Stílusirányzatok az európai színházművészetben’, in Székely (ed.)., Magyar Színháztörténet, pp. 451–485, at p. 456.))

The modern French theatrical reforms influenced the performance practice of opera as well, and they coincided with the development of the opéra-comique repertoire. However, as John B. Steane has also stated, the singing style of the latter is rarely discussed in detail in the secondary literature, and there exist only rather general and stereotypical descriptions about the French singing style.((John B. Steane, ‘France: Years of Plenty’, in Steane, The Grand Tradition. Seventy Years of Singing on Record. Second Edition (Portland: Amadeus Press, 1993), pp. 113–124, at p. 113.)) In their books on the history of singing, neither Jürgen Kesting nor Michael Scott gave a clear definition of the style they call Le beau idéal and connect to the art of Jean de Reszke.((Michael Scott, The Record of Singing. Vol. 1 (London: Duckworth, 1977), p. 60.; Jürgen Kesting, Die grossen Sänger. Vol. 1 (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2008), p. 419.)) Nevertheless, it is possible to draw inferences from various statements.

According to Kesting, the characteristics of the ‘vocal ars gallica’ are elegance and lightness, clear articulation and pronunciation, grace and humour, intellect and nobleness. The ideal voice is thin, clear and light, which allows for flexible articulation.((Kesting, Die grossen Sänger, p. 423.)) Henry Pleasants stated that the new French operatic repertoire of the last third of the nineteenth century required a new performance style, in which the vocal virtuosity was subordinated to the primary emotions.((Henry Pleasants, The Great Singers from the Dawn of Opera (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), pp. 302–303.)) This could be relevant to the performance style of verismo as well, but a special elegance differentiates the modern French interpretation from the Italian naturalistic performance style. As many examples show from the international reception history of Carmen, singing in the style of the bel canto tradition was not an essential element of the new French operatic performance practice which rather required modern acting skills.((See, for example, the chapters by Matthew Franke, Martin Nedbal and Ulla-Britta Broman-Kananen in Langham Smith and Rowden (eds.), Carmen Abroad.)) The contemporary reviews used the words ‘singing actor/actress’ as a term in the new French operatic performance style, which testifies to the impact of modern French acting style on operatic performance practice.((For example, Henry R. Parker used the term in 1915 in the Boston Evening Transcript, writing about the performance of Jeanne Gerville-Réache (1882–1915). See Kesting, Die grossen Sänger, p. 439. The almost acting-like expression of the singing of Gerville-Réache can be observed in the second verse of her recording of Carmen’s ‘Habanera’, made in 1910.)) All this evidence implies that French singers did not primarily rely on the volume of their voices to impress, and that their ideal sound was determined by the emotional intensity induced by the language and the content of the text.

Surprisingly, the idea of the ‘singing actress’ was first mentioned in the reception of Carmen in Budapest at the first guest performance of an Italian singer, Gemma Bellincioni, in 1887. A critic claimed that her portrayal would have been a first class theatrical acting even without her singing.((–ts., ‘Opera’, Egyetértés, 7 April 1887, press clipping in the Press collection of the Archives of the Hungarian State Opera.)) Obviously, this does not mean that Bellincioni’s singing was deficient. It was her acting, rooted in her experiences in the verismo repertoire, which made her a ‘singing actress’ for the Hungarian journalist.((Matthew Franke associates the new veristic approach to the role of Carmen with Gemma Bellincioni’s interpretation. See Matthew Franke, ‘How Carmen Became a Repertory Opera in Italy and in Italian’, in Langham Smith and Rowden (eds.), Carmen Abroad, pp. 94–110, at pp. 104–105.))

Charlotte Wyns in Budapest

The first real French ‘singing actress’ came to Budapest in the winter of 1901–1902, when Charlotte Wyns, the famous singer of the Opéra-Comique appeared in a series of guest performances at the Royal Hungarian Opera. She sang twelve performances in a period of almost two months, appearing as Carmen, Anita, Amneris, Mignon and Santuzza. As a renowned performer of such roles as Charlotte, Mignon, Carmen and Manon, she was the first representative of the modern French operatic performance style on the stage of the Royal Hungarian Opera.

Charlotte Wyns as Carmen, from the archives of the Hungarian State Opera

Charlotte Wyns as Carmen. With permission from the archives of the Hungarian State Opera

Wyns’s guest performances coincided with the huge new wave of Wagnerism in Budapest, caused by the belated and extremely successful Hungarian premiere of Tristan und Isolde in November 1901, starring the young Heldentenor Karel Burian.((About the Hungarian premiere of Tristan und Isolde see my article ‘Karel Burian and Hungary’, in Péter Bozó (ed.), Space, Time, Tradition. Studies Undertaken at the Doctoral School of the Budapest Liszt Academy (Budapest: Rózsavölgyi és Társa, 2013), pp. 265–292.)) It is not surprising that Charlotte Wyns shocked the Hungarian music critics with her portrayal. In general, they claimed that she did not have a voice at all, and that she tried to hide it with her modern acting.((a. k. [Károly Antalik], ‘Magyar kir. Opera’, Hazánk, 17 December 1901, p. 10.; Cy., ‘Dalszinház’, Magyar Szó, 17 December 1901, press clipping in the Press collection of the Archives of the Hungarian State Opera.)) It is remarkable that the phrases used in the reviews of Wyns’s performance were similar to the words of the Italian critics on Célestine Galli-Marié and Lison Frandin almost 20 years earlier.((See Franke, ‘How Carmen Became a Repertory Opera’, p. 102.)) It was only Aurél Kern (1871–1928), composer and music critic, later the director of the Royal Hungarian Opera, who recognized the uncommon features of Wyns’s performance as a coherent and modern performance style.(((k. a.) [Aurél Kern], ‘(Operaház.)’, Budapesti Hirlap, 16 December 1901, p. 2.)) In his review he compared it to the music of Gustave Charpentier, and referred to them both as the newest phenomena of French music history, saying that they ‘complement each other, and, in essence, they are equal: their main tendency is the realism, brought to the genre of the opera, in which the words, gestures and the situation take hold of the music, and the singing is subordinated to the declamation.’((Kern, ‘(Operaház.)’, p. 2.)) Kern deemed the singing of Wyns a ‘coloured recitation’. In his opinion, Carmen still belonged to an earlier operatic tradition – based on his former experiences of Carmen performances in Budapest – and consequently, he praised Wyns’s acting, dance and her costumes, but he could not accept her ‘veristic singing-speech’.

This ‘veristic singing-speech’ can be illustrated by Charlotte Wyns’s phonograph cylinder recording of Carmen’s ‘Séguidille’, from 1904.((Dutreih & Co. 150205, 18287. Recorded in 1905. I offer my thanks to Stephan Puille for his help in finding the sound recordings of Charlotte Wyns.)) The musical rhythms are widely accommodated to the text; the enunciation is impressive. It cannot be said that Wyns does not sing, as we can hear a mezzosoprano with a powerful middle range and almost dramatic high notes. However, in the middle of the ‘Séguidille’, instead of singing she speaks the words ‘mon amoureux’ when she repeats them. She executes Bizet’s instruction ‘riant’ with loud and coquettish laughter (audio clip). This laughter was not unique at the time, as, for example, Sigrid Arnoldson also used it on her recording of the ‘Séguidille ’ made in 1906.((The Gramophone Company 33609, matr. 1285r. Recorded in June 1906, Berlin.)) However, Arnoldson did not make use of her speaking voice even though the aria was too low for her.

At her second guest performance, Wyns was compared in the role of Mignon to Sigrid Arnoldson, who was very popular in this role in Budapest. It is no surprise that Wyns was surpassed by her, at least, as a singer. As István Gergely wrote, ‘her interpretation is a very tricky singing-recitation’,(((–ly.) [István Gergely], ‘Operaház’, Budapesti Napló, 20 December 1901, press clipping in the Press collection of the Archives of the Hungarian State Opera.)) and, according to the critic of Pesti Hirlap, the performance of the arias ‘conveyed an impression of melodramatic declamation; we have heard the text and the accompanying music, but hardly any singing.’((‘(M. kir. Operaház.)’, Pesti Hirlap, 20 December 1901, p. 5. Highlighting in the original.)) Her acting must have been very modern, since some critics even stated that her portrayal was sensual. A very special sensuality was also mentioned in connection with her portrayal of Amneris. According to the somewhat sarcastic words of Armand Erdős, Wyns ‘performed the daughter of the Pharaoh with so much grace, as if this Pharaoh would spend some months of the year with his lovely daughter in Paris to bring the smell of the perfume and elegance to the court of Egypt.’(((e.–á.) [Armand Erdős], ‘Opera’, Egyetértés, 31 December 1901, press clipping in the Press collection of the Archives of the Hungarian State Opera.)) However, surprisingly, her singing was not criticized in Verdi’s opera; perhaps the critics were becoming accustomed to her interpretation which must have been adequate with regards to her singing.

In the title role of La Navarraise, Charlotte Wyns definitely met with success. The coherence of her singing and acting astonished the music critics and the audience. She took twelve curtain calls at the end of the performance, and the critics could not help confessing that her singing also triumphed.((‘Wyns Charlotte, mint Anita’, Clipping with false heading „Pesti Napló 1902. január 2.” at the press collection of the Archives of the Hungarian State Opera.)) The journalist of Budapesti Hirlap stated that ‘she did not sing the role at all, but mostly recited it. She shocked us with the truth and power of her acting.’((‘(Operaház.)’, Budapesti Hirlap, 2 January 1902, p. 8.)) It is a sign of her definite success that she was pronounced a better performer of that role than its first Hungarian performer, Arabella Szilágyi, or even Emma Calvé, for whom the role was composed.((‘(M. kir. operaház.)’, Pesti Hirlap, 5 December 1902, p. 7.))  By the praising words of the review of Pesti Napló it is clear that the modern French operatic performance style had been accepted: ‘The Girl from Navarre […] found such an impersonator in Charlotte Wyns which can only come into existence on the French stage. She was crafty, ingenious, refined, but natural in her passion, almost naturalistic, and yet not for a moment rude, but always very subtle by reason of her intelligence and the aesthetics of her body; surprising and intriguing due to the great theatrical artifice.’((‘A navarrai leány’, Pesti Napló, 2 January 1902, p. 8. The first sentence is worth comparing with the review of Cosmorama pittorico on Célestine Galli-Marié, see, Franke, ‘How Carmen Became a Repertory Opera’, p. 102.))

The consequence of her success was that the next two guest singers who appeared at the Royal Hungarian Opera in the role of Carmen, Franceschina Prevosti (1866–1938) and Zîna de Nuovina (1865–1940), were unable to outshine her performance. Although, according to Ludovic Halévy, de Nuovina played a less restrained Carmen than Emma Calvé at the turn of the century,((See Clair Rowden and Richard Langham Smith, ‘Carmen at Home and Abroad’, in Langham Smith and Rowden (eds.), Carmen Abroad, pp. 3–25, at p. 16.)) the review of de Nuovina’s performance in Budapest shows that Wyns’s style became the gold standard there in these roles: ‘Miss De Nuovina sang Carmen, in accordance with the old style.’((‘(M. kir. operaház.)’, Pesti Hirlap, 5 December 1902, p. 7. Highlighting in the original. It is worth mentioning that the review preferred de Nuovina to Wyns, who, according to the journalist, ‘belongs to the school which only colours the declamation with the voice and transforms opera singers to diseuses.’ However, the remark on de Nuovina’s ‘singing’ is still relevant.)) Consequently, even Emma Calvé could not gratify the expectations of the Hungarian music critics at her guest performance in Budapest in December 1904.((See, for example, (k. i.) [Imre Kálmán], ‘Calvé asszony az Operaházban’, Pesti Napló, 4 December 1904, p. 16.))

Wyns’s extraordinary performance style contributed much to operatic performance practice in Hungary. It not only brought an almost unknown, up-to-date interpretation to Budapest, but also opened the doors of the Royal Hungarian Opera to the most remarkable Hungarian Carmen of the pre-WW1 era, Elza Szamosi, who sang her debut as Carmen at the Opera in November 1903.((To commemorate the 140th birthday of Elza Szamosi another article will be published in the next few months on www.carmenabroad.org.)) Although she conveyed a highly ambivalent impression in Budapest, similarly to Wyns, she was soon to become one of the most influential Hungarian opera singers of the first half of the twentieth century.


  1. ‘Szinházi ujdonságok’, Ellenőr, 16 March 1875, p. 2. [] []
  2. ‘Bécsi hirek’, Fővárosi Lapok, 4 November 1875, p. 1125. []
  3. ‘A nemzeti szinházban’, A Hon, 10 September 1875, p. 2. []
  4. ‘(Bizet György »Carmen«)’, Pesti Napló, 12 September 1875, p. 2. []
  5. ‘Az évnegyed utósó számában’, Fővárosi Lapok, 30 September 1876, p. 1053. []
  6. See the timeline on www.carmenabroad.org. []
  7. The Gramophone Company 72524, matr. 2506. Recorded in Budapest, May or June 1899. []
  8. ‘Bizet és »Carmen«-je’, Fővárosi Lapok, 14 October 1876, p. 3. []
  9. On the Viennese premiere of Carmen, see Laura Moeckli, ‘Carmen’s Second Chance: Revival in Vienna’, in Richard Langham Smith and Clair Rowden (eds.), Carmen Abroad: Bizet’s Opera on the Global Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), pp. 26–44. []

Ferenc János Szabó

Ferenc János Szabó, PhD, is currently a research fellow at the Institute for Musicology, Research Centre for the Humanities ELKH, and lecturer at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy in Budapest.