Miska the Toff

Mágnás Miska, an operetta by Albert Szirmai (1880-1967), was originally produced in Budapest in 1916, where it opened on February 12. It was filmed by Alexander Korda the same year, and, bizarre though it might seem to make a silent version of a musical, that reveals something important about the show. It’s full of musical ‘standards’ that remain beloved in Hungary a century later, but the music isn’t everything: the core of the script is a social satire about class.

01 Magnas Miska

The story takes place at a country house party hosted by Count Kasimir Korlath, where the daughter of the house, Rolla, falls for one of the guests, Ivan. Unfortunately he’s not as aristocratic as she is: he’s a mere railway engineer, and this occasions some adverse comment among the family and other guests. Ivan gets his own back by introducing his uncle, Count Amadée, who has just returned from big-game hunt in darkest Africa. So evidently he’s not a pleb after all.

What most of the toffs don’t realize is that the Count is nothing of the sort: he’s actually Ivan’s groom, Miska, and all it takes to turn him into an aristocrat, apparently, is a swanky suit and a monocle. Rolla sees through the deception and adds to the confusion by announcing another guest, the fictitious Amadée’s cousin, Countess Lizzi, who is really the scullery maid, Marcsa, in disguise. And that sets the scene for a wealth of farcical misunderstandings.

But the real core of the show is the comic double act of Miska and Marcsa, the star parts. The story is just as much about how they get together as how Ivan and Rolla do, and when the show is done well, the sexual tension between them can be electric. An early instance of this is a duet that’s played almost as an Apache dance, with a lot of slapping and kicking, most of which misses its target. But not all…

Here are Gabor Peter Vincze and Anita Mozes as Miska and Martha in a 2014 production:

02 Gabor Peter Vincze & Anita Mozes

And here’s a bottom-smacking snippet from the trailer:

To prove that’s not just an enjoyable fluke, here are Janos Sardy and Anna Zentai playing the same parts in the 1960s. Make sure you watch to the end!

Yes, there’s some bottom-smacking in the duet itself as well as the buildup, and though some productions choose to dispense with that bit of spice, contrariwise, others opt to take it a bit further…

Two productions opened in Hungary in 2015. One of them featured Karoly Peller as Miska and, as Marcsa, Anna Peller (no relation). Here she is:

02a Anna Peller as Marcza02b03 Anna Peller as Marcsa04 Anna Peller

You get to see a lot of her bloomers in the course of the show, because her interpretation of the role was somewhat accident-prone:

04a Anna Peller05 Anna Peller06 Anna Peller07 Anna Peller08 Anna Peller09 Anna Peller

That’s the Countess Lizzi landing on her bottom in the last two pictures. From which you’ll gather that Marcsa’s performance of the noble lady is not notable for its dignity.

10 Anna Peller11 Anna Peller11a Anna Peller

But if you want real indignity, then… Marcsa, meet Miska:

12 Anna Peller & Karoly Peller

If he catches you bending:

13

Strike One!

1415

And so to the duet. And in this production, it’s not just a smacked bottom you have to worry about, Marcsa, dear. This time it’s going to be… a spanking!

16

171819

You may remember that I mentioned that two different productions opened in 2015. Surely they didn’t both handle the duet in such a pleasing fashion?

Well, think again, because the other one starred this pair:

20 Jozsef Bozso & Trixi Teremi

That’s Jozsef Bozso and Trixi Teremi, a musical double-act we have met before, whose regular schtick includes Trixi getting spanked. So when, in the 2015-16 touring production, Trixi played Marcsa and Jozsef played Miska, guess what?

212223

To which one can only say: Hurrah!

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