The Best Hungarian Rock Opera You Probably Haven't Heard Of

When I was in eighth grade, I fell head-over-heels for a musical. Not RENT, not Wicked, but something else -- Romeo es Julia, a Hungarian adaptation of a French rock opera based on the iconic Shakespeare play. 

Even now, five years after my first discovery of it, I’m still a little in awe of its absurdity and its sheer scope of production. It’s not quite a modernization. While the play incorporates early- to mid-2000s grunge-pop costuming, there are still sweeping ball gowns, delicate masks and billowing white blouses. There are just some leopard-print tank tops thrown into the mix -- shout out to Benvolio for that one. Furthermore, the metallic elements add a futuristic energy to the costuming. It’s an honest to God potpourri, and somehow they make it fit.

There are synthesizers and electric guitars, but it’s a musical. There are choral undertones and theatrical dramatics running rampant. 

Mercutio, played by Zoltan Bereczki, always struck a chord with me. He’s ridiculously tall, and his body radiates an effortless grace and boyish charm within the dance scenes. He’s loud too, the loudest within the cast, and his screw-the-world mentality comes across with every line he delivers, clear enough that I can feel the meaning of the words in a foreign tongue with English subtitles. I ended up becoming an English major, something that would not surprise middle-school-aged Grace, but regardless of how many times I study Romeo and Juliet, the Mercutio I picture always has that catlike, Bereczki edge.

Juliet was lovely too. The actress, Dora Szinetar, was older than the canonically 14-year-old Juliet, but I’m not about to push against that. The increase in age made the whole plot a lot less awkward, but she retained that youthful goodness, innocence and curiosity that makes Juliet so remarkable. And her costumes -- sigh. Eighth grade Grace swooned over the flowing dresses and the long curly hair. 

There’s something astounding about the sound. There’s a fire and a passion that made the show a hit in nearly all continents except North America. At one point, I recall finding a bootleg of an American or English-speaking cast, but it was cringe-worthy. 

Romeo es Julia encompasses the melodrama and the elegance that Shakespeare intended Romeo and Juliet to radiate, but unlike many other productions of the infamous tragedy, it makes a 16th century passion relatable to a modern audience. It will make you laugh, and it will make you cry. It’s a chaotic conundrum of dance and noise, but it still somehow manages to remain loyal to the source material. 

Throughout all the change abundant in my freshman year of college, I’ve found myself not longing for, but nostalgic for the hyperfixations of my past. This may have been one of my highest quality obsessions. It’s weird; I’m not going to try to pretend it’s not an absolutely bizarro production, but if you have two and a half hours to spare and you’re open to having your mind occupied by one hundred percent hedonistic tragedy and operatic Hungarian tongue, then the links are on YouTube in full. 

It’s not a stereotypical Broadway showstopper, but I still managed to record “Lehetsz Kiraly” on my HTC smartphone at age 13. I learned the dance, and I have distinct memories of clumsily going through the motions at the beach with middle school friends I had roped into my special show. It was my ringtone. On the last day of middle school, I remember the static-y Hungarian radiating from my phone in my bag across the room. It wasn’t loud enough that it was disruptive, but it was enough that I noticed. It was enough that I recognized the hammering beat. It was enough to make me smile.