Two Luthers in the same opera? Possible, though hard to do well. Director Péter Gemza managed to create something truly magnificent in the Ragtime Opera genre with Luthers, a co-production of Bartók Plus Opera Festival and Csokonai Theatre, Debrecen.

The Ragtime Opera Luthers, directed by Péter Gemza, music by Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band leader Tamás Ittzés, and realised in cooperation with drama writer Gábor Lanczkor premièred at Miskolc, on the third day of the Bartók Plus Opera Festival; Sunday, the 18th of June.

What is a Ragtime Opera?

It is an interesting genre, as Ragtime Opera features every musical ingredient that fits the genre of Jazz. It contains elements of Swing, Blues, Dixieland, Gospel, and occasionally Operetta stylings, not to mention Ragtime itself. One point of interest is that during the play, the band plays on the stage instead of in the orchestra pit. The first Ragtime Opera was written by Scott Joplin, a hundred years ago. 

The main storyline of ‘Luthers’ was based on the most important moments of Martin Luther King’s life. The performance encompassed the 1955 bus boycott and the actions and debates that followed it, as well as the occasion when somebody threw a Molotov cocktail into Martin Luther King’s home. The production depicted this symbolically with a flaming cross Martin Luther King saw outside his window. The creativity of set designer Zsófia Mészáros can be thanked for creating the altarpiece from a superstructure that could later, in the middle of the performance, be turned around to serve as King’s pulpit. And in the funeral scene, the coffin for Martin Luther King was removed from the same structure. However, another important character is also ‘resurrected’ in the story: Martin Luther himself. After Martin Luther King dies, the two titular characters meet in Heaven, where (after some banter related to Martin Luther’s love of beer) they come to the conclusion that the interesting questions Martin Luther was thinking about in 1517, and Martin Luther King, centuries later, are still valid.

The music for ‘Luthers’, created to honour the 500th anniversary of Reformation, was played by the Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band, supplemented with additional musicians, led by composer Tamás Ittzés, who amplified the atmosphere further with their genius music. This along with the great dance parts, songs, and acting, created a truly first-class production. It was enchanting. Viewers could truly feel part of Martin Luther King’s life and dreams in these two hours. We have to mention the names of some of the principal actors: Martin Luther King was played by Gergely Biri, while Martin Luther, appearing in his dreams, was István Kovács. In the role of King’s wife, Coretta, was Kíra Nagy, and Coretta’s friend Lucy was Mariann Mudrák. The Narrator was Ilona Sárközi-Nagy. The exceptional set and costumes were created by Zsófia Mészáros, and the choreographer was Dóra Kasznai.

After the performance, a reception was held, where Dr. Károly Hafenscher, State Commissioner of the Reformation Memorial Committee was also present. In his short speech, he congratulated the participants of the production for their exceptional performances, and stressed that we are celebrating the memorial year of Reformation, one of the most important goals of which is to demonstrate the core values of Reformation not staring into the past, but in a present-day way.

In Miskolc National Theatre, filled to the brim, we took part in a truly magnificent première, that was a fitting commemoration and tribute to both the Ragtime Opera genre and the half-millennium jubilee of Reformation. If one didn’t catch the production on Sunday, they can see the ‘Luthers’ Ragtime Opera multiple times in Csokonai Theatre, Debrecen during the year.