The New and The Old

“In recent times the Opera of the National Theatre Brno has surprised us with one excellent production after another. It’s time to finally set aside false modesty and admit that what is currently taking place on the stage of the Janáček Theatre is of an international standard and that Brno is experiencing a golden age.” (Harmonie, Martin Flašar, 17. 10. 2016)

Did you know that we are living in a ‘golden age’ for Brno opera? For those of us from non-European countries (anticipating Brexit – sorry) it is an incredible privilege to experience world-class affordable opera. The last time I went to an opera in Australia, I paid Vienna prices and the unavoidable car parking cost the same as the opera ticket in Brno!

Last year my predecessor, Arts Scene blogger and harpist Kimberly Rowe, commented on the extraordinary repertoire of the National Theatre Brno (NdB) which included at least 25 operas rotated throughout the year.

Tosca by Puccini

I counted more than 20 operas in the 2017-18 repertoire including the always popular classics – Don Giovanni (Mozart), Tosca (Puccini), Carmen (Bizet), La Traviata (Verdi) and The Barber of Seville (Rossini) – as well as some lesser known operas such as Le Comte Ory (Rossini) and La Dafne (Hanzlik, Vít Zouhar). Whether you are an opera buff or a newcomer to this magical world of music and colour, there will be something to tempt you. You can look at the program here.

The Company has two productions premiering next year, a modern opera Puss in Boots (Kocour v botách) by the leading Czech composer, Jiří Teml, and the 19th century classic The Queen of Spades (Piková dáma) by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.  

Jiří Teml was born in 1935 and trained as an economist although it wasn’t long before he sought out formal musical training. Wikipedia describes him as a prolific composer and the description is apt as his work includes “several symphoniesconcertossong cycleschoral works, chamber musicart songs, and works for solo organ and piano”. Most articles describe him as being influenced by Czech folk music and I did find one interview in a thesis on the famous children’s choir, Bambini di Praga, in which Teml described the Czech folk song as “a well of pure water and “compensation for the current overproduction of popular musical smog”!

Poster for Puss in Boots by Jiří Teml

Puss in Boots is an opera for children and was written when Teml was in his 70’s. It first premiered in 2009 as a choral work at the Smetana Litomyšl music festival. A new stage version premiered in Plzeň in 2016, with the composer providing extra ballet music and rearranging the singing for the production. It’s not easy to write an opera that keeps children amused and entertained for 2 hours as well as connected with the music, but apparently, this opera succeeds so I’m really looking forward to seeing it – I just wish my grandchildren were here to see it as well.

Maybe I just don’t know where to look, but it has been really difficult to find any reviews or information (in Czech or English) about Puss in Boots so if anyone knows more, please post a comment.

Born almost 100 years earlier, Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky is the most popular Russian composer of all time and information was definitely not difficult to find. The music of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and the 1812 Overture are so well known they are almost musical clichés.

While Eugene Onegin is Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera, many people consider that The Queen of Spades is his best. Based on a much-altered story by Pushkin, it is a gripping drama in which Herman, the lead character, is a gambling addict and is consumed by his desire to learn the secrets of ‘the three cards’. This opera could definitely serve as a public health warning about the perils of gambling as, of course, he ends up dead together with his mistress and the Countess, her elderly grand-mother.

 

Carmen by Bizet

Tchaikovsky, who was a homosexual in a country where homosexuality was illegal (and can still be punished by fines or jail under Russian law), apparently identified with Herman, the outsider, to such an extent that he “wept terribly when Herman gave up the ghost. Sadly, three years after The Queen of Spades premiered in 1893, Tchaikovsky died of cholera reputedly by drinking a glass of unboiled water when cholera was rampant.

I have not seen The Queen of Spades so I will definitely be in the audience next year; and after writing this blog I want to see Puss in Boots so I can tell my grandchildren all about it.  But maybe I will go to Carmen again – the performance in Špilberk this summer was stunning in its colour, action and music.  

You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy opera. I definitely am not; but I love it, and I love being in a place where opera and music are such an integral part of the community.  

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