Rock opera and resistance

'Stephen, the King' as a building block of minority ethnic identity in Transylvania and the United States


  • Imola Bülgözdi University of Debrecen
  • Zsófia O. Réti University of Debrecen



borderland identity, cultural identity, ethnic minorities, Hungarian diaspora, rock opera, state socialism, Stephen, the King, Transylvania


Stephen, the King (1983), the most popular Hungarian rock opera, succeeded in bringing alive the well-known foundational myth of the Hungarian nation state by means of a new genre and its political relevance as a covert protest against the Soviet military presence. The rock opera was also extremely popular among members of Hungarian communities beyond the borders. The article compares two, very different cases of trans-border Hungarian identities focused around Stephen, the King: the Transylvanian reception of the rock opera and, based on Réka Pigniczky’s documentary Incubator, its American-Hungarian readings. The latter qualifies as a hybrid identity in progress, while Transylvania, a site of permanent cultural and political friction between Hungary and Romania, displays a cultural identity that is inherently mixed, a borderland identity. Capitalizing on Stuart Hall’s understanding of cultural identities, we argue that the diasporic/minority reception of the rock opera enabled unique ways of imag(in)ing national belonging, which were, to a great extent, different from its reception in Hungary. Our case studies confirm that both diasporic and borderland identities have received a boost via the new popular genre, enabling both groups to forge bonds with the imagined community of Hungarians and what they perceived as Hungarian national culture.

Author Biographies

Imola Bülgözdi, University of Debrecen

Imola Bülgözdi is an assistant professor teaching American Literature, Cultural Studies and Popular Culture at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. She specializes in the literature of the American South and is also interested in the comparative analysis of novels and film adaptations.

Zsófia O. Réti, University of Debrecen

Zsófia O. Réti is a lecturer teaching Visual Culture at the University of Debrecen, where she majored in English and Hungarian Literature and Culture in 2009, and then in Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in 2012. Her research interests include post-socialism, post-colonialism, memory studies, nostalgia and popular culture.


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How to Cite

Bülgözdi, I., & Réti, Z. (2018). Rock opera and resistance: ’Stephen, the King’ as a building block of minority ethnic identity in Transylvania and the United States. Popular Music History, 11(1), 10–27.