REFERENCE SOURCES SPOTLIGHT: Researching Opera in Hungary and Sweden

Although there are numerous tools and sources for documenting operatic performance in Western Europe, tracing performances, performers, and composers at Europe’s periphery can often be a frustrating and painstaking endeavor for researchers. Two newer databases, however, offer invaluable and efficient access to records of stage performances in Budapest and Stockholm.

Opera DIGITár (henceforth DIGITár) provides comprehensive data on performance in Hungary under the auspices of the State Opera; the Operans repertoararkiv (henceforth Repertoararkiv) provides the same for performance presented by the Swedish Royal Theater in Sweden (note that although the database name refers to the opera, it also includes records for ballet and dramatic works). The Swedish database was made available to the public in June 2017, while DIGITár launched in September 2019. Both of these databases are in their respective languages (DIGITár in Hungarian and Repertoararkiv in Swedish) but their excellent organization and clear layout make them easy to navigate even for users who do speak or read these languages. With Google Translate or other browser plug-ins, users should be able to perform searches and to interpret what they find.

The two databases aim to support a wide range of users (from the general public to scholarly researchers) and they offer similar options for discovery. Each can be searched by the titles of works, by the names of roles, by date, and by venue (reflecting the long and complex history of these institutions and the various contexts in which they have each existed). It also possible to search names of individuals (DIGITár combines these under one category: “Persons,” while Repertoararkiv provides options for “Creator” [e.g. Verdi] and “Participant” [e.g. Birgit Nilsson]). In many cases, DIGITár offers extensive biographical details about these performers. Repertoararkiv also allows searching by genre (opera, ballet, or dramatic work) and by a date range (so, for instance, limiting searches to all performances between September 1880 and September 1881). Neither requires the use of diacritics but while Repertoarakiv allows for uniform titles, DIGITár requires the searcher to identify the Hungarian equivalent. So, for instance, a search for Michel Fokine’s Les sylphides in the Repertoarakiv will bring back performances of Fokine’s own 1913 staging of his ballet (given under the Swedish title Sylfiderna) as well as the 1952 Marquise de Cuevas staging under the original French name. A search for Verdi’s Il trovatore in DIGITár turns up no results—but a search under the Hungarian title (A trubadúr) documents 888 performances between 1884 and 2017.

At the time of writing, the two databases encompass a remarkable amount of information: 4,261 individual productions are documented in Repertoarakiv (many with further information about each individual performance) while 59,021 individual performances are documented in DIGITár. Where relevant, photographs, playbills, and other archival materials are linked to the record of the performance. These two databases make clear that these are very much working projects and that the information presented may be impacted by missing, contradictory, or unsubstantiated sources. They invite feedback from users who may note discrepancies or who may be able to provide further information about a given item or event (DIGITár may be contacted at and Repertoararkiv at

One of the most valuable aspects of these databases, naturally, is the opportunity to look at a given performance in great detail. One example: Budapest newspapers note that when the Norwegian soprano Gina Oselio (née Ingeborg Aas) sang Carmen in 1886, she performed the role in Italian while the rest of the cast sang in Hungarian. This approach (now difficult to imagine for many reasons) is substantiated by the all-Hungarian cast list in DIGITár —many of whom participated in other mixed-language productions—and it demonstrates not only the remarkable versatility of these singers but also the importance of local language to nineteenth-century operatic production. Of course, DIGITár and Repertoararkiv also allow users to understand the history of performance in the aggregate. A search for F. A. Dahlgren and A. Randel’s Wermlänningarne permits the researcher to compare the original 1846 production (582 documented performances) with the new production staged in 1925. The frequency and number of performances of a specific work (or of a specific performer) obviously offers insight into broader tastes and suggest how such tastes evolved over time. These larger amounts of data may also be useful to digital humanists.

We are indebted to our colleagues at the archives of both the Magyar Királyi Operaház and the Kungliga Operan for their careful and painstaking work in creating these resources.

Opera DIGITár:

Operans repertoararkiv:

Patricia Puckett Sasser
Furman University