A blood libel in which Jews were falsely accused of killing a young Christian girl and using her blood in a religious ritual in 19th century Hungary is the basis for a new opera opening this weekend in Budapest.
The Red Heifer is based on a true story set in the Hungarian village of Tiszaeszlár, where 14-year-old Eszter Solymosi disappeared in 1882.
Jews from the village were charged with the girl’s murder, accused of using her blood to prepare for Passover.
As reported by author Norman Lebrecht on classical music blog Slipped Disc, the opera was composed by conductor Iván Fischer, who told the JC he wanted to depict “the bizarre, grotesque nature of this whole affair”.
When the Jews were acquitted, a wave of antisemitism erupted across Hungary. Mr Fischer said that some in the country still believe in the blood libel.
Today, antisemitism in Hungary is on the rise again, and the World Jewish Congress has criticised the country for not doing enough to fight it.
“In our family conversations since my childhood, this Tiszaeszlár affair has always been mentioned as a symptomatic sort of affair which represents the clash of thinking between the two very polarised opinions you find in Hungary,” Mr Fischer said.
“There is a larger part of the population [who] would like to be part of Europe, that is tolerant, and there is this other type, this other part of Hungary that is paranoid, nationalistic, looks for scapegoats. As an artist, I think it’s important to show a mirror to society.”
Mr Fischer has been working on this project for 25 years and its completion “feels to me like finally I did something which I was preparing for decades”.
The opera focuses on a 14-year-old Jewish boy who was coerced into accusing his own father and others in their community of the blood libel.