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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
But if you want real indignity, then… Marcsa, meet Miska:
If he catches you bending:
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!
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:
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?
To which one can only say: Hurrah!