Open Air Theater With World Stars
Photo by Judit Dombóvái
Teodóra Bán, formerly a successful ballet dancer, has been the head of the Open Air Theater, organizing the summer shows of the Margaret Island Grand Stage and the Városmajor Open Air Stage, for some 15 years. The Budapest Business Journal asked her about this year’s open air programs and what happens behind the scenes.
Despite her unfortunate early retirement from dancing at the peak of her career, she remained true to theater, culture and the audience. In the 1990s, she organized several pioneering cultural events in Hungary. She has been leading the Budapest Festival and Tourism Center for six years, responsible for performances at cultural events ranging from the internationally recognized Spring Festival to the Christmas Fair at Vörösmarty tér.
BBJ: The audience applauded you on stage for decades. How does it feel seeking their recognition from the other side?
Teodóra Bán: My work is facilitated by knowing the stage world; I personally experienced the sensitiveness of artists. I feel what they need for fulfilment, almost on an instinctual level… Numerous world stars appear at the Margaret Island Stage, and we, the organizers, consider them as our ambassadors. On the internet, they do us a great service with their photos on their social media sites and the praise they share with many: they popularize the cultural values of Budapest, and the viewers “advertise” us too. A lot of people put in a lot of effort, and Budapest won first place at the European Best Destinations competition. For me, the mission is popularizing the wonderful values of the capital. Alongside its historical and natural features, its architecture, and wonderful baths, the Margaret Island Open Air Stage is also a guest-attracting brand. If I expect guests at home, I compile the dinner from the finest meals. For those who arrive in the city, I offer delicacies of art, to make them choose this place, which, in my opinion, is the center of Europe, due to its dynamic cultural scene. When they arrive, they should see that the promises are fulfilled.
BBJ: Who is the target audience of the festival?
TB: The Budapest Summer Festival name really covers the two huge open air theaters in the Hungarian capital, one on Margaret Island and the Városmajor Open Air Stage. The latter features many excellent prosaic and children’s shows, requiring a knowledge of the language. The favorite of the foreigners is the Margaret Island stage; its mostly musical programs are accessible for everyone in a wonderful green environment. A real cavalcade of genres awaits visitors: opera, large symphonic concerts, ballet, folk dance, contemporary dance, operetta, and musical. So, both younger and older visitors, the lovers of classical and lighter entertainment can find the program they like.
BBJ: What kind of challenges does the organization of open air performance pose?
TB: It is a challenge in itself that the summer lasts three months; the festival is not focused on a single genre, unlike many famous European festivals, diversity provides its magic. The other miracle is the environment of the Margaret Island stage, surrounded by ancient trees. The sizes are grandiose as well. Its auditorium holds 3,000 people, the stage is two-three times as large as that of an average permanent theater. The pieces need to be adapted to the location to let them appear in their full glory in front of the audience. For the operas and musicals, twice as many characters need to move around the stage as during other performances. The tall, shrubby trees behind the stage serve as props, utilized well in the garden scene of the “Turandot” performance, but they will also be in the limelight during the cacodemon (evil spirit) story adaptation of the classic ballet “Giselle”, and others. Of course we need the support of the weather to achieve the results of the immense work, done with love, that went into the preparation of the programs.
BBJ: Who are the most significant stars this year?
TB: Eight world famous guests will arrive for our shows. We managed to get Marcelo Álvarez to perform in the “Bajazzos” here after the New York Metropolitan and Opera de Monte-Carlo. One of the most versatile tenors today, Pavarotti-mentored Vittorio Grigolo will also give an opera gala concert. Cristina Pasaroiu and José Cura are two sought-after opera singers, who will enchant the audience with “Turandot”. Our violin virtuoso performer, Nigel Kennedy is featured in the Guinness Book of Records. Nicola Benedetti, one of the most influential classical artist of our time will perform Tchaikovsky’s “D Major Violin Concerto” with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra and conductor Christian Reif. Pink Martini from Oregon will also feature. Four famous groups will also perform at our evenings. The ballet group of Mariinsky Theater will enchant the audience with Prokofiev’s “Cinderella”. The artists of the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater will come with the classic ballet “Giselle”. The National Georgian Ballet will present Sukhishvili’s “Dance Night”, and we also invited Hervé Koubi’s genial production called “Barbarian Nights”.
BBJ: What do you consider the highlight of the performances?
TB: The longest summer festival in Europe has multiple highlights. Almost every genre represents a highlight. We are full of attractions, productions offering a special experience, that can only be seen here, at Margaret Island. I’m especially proud that last year we managed to bring back the outstanding genre of classical Hungarian culture, the operetta, which demands excellent voices. The “Csárdás Queen” by Imre Kálmán will be presented for the first time on the open air stage. We are trying to appeal to a wide layer and give them a great experience with our offerings. It is a stage with traditions where stars such as Giuseppe Patané, Yevgeny Nesterenko, and Lamberto Gardelli have performed, laying the base for the venue’s reputation. This also requires us to provide quality entertainment, a faultless enjoyment of art to the audience.
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