The opera gala evening “State Opera in the Course of Time (1888-2018)” reflects the most famous chapters of the intriguing history of the State Opera and was directed by the renowned director Alice Nellis. Czech playwright Pavel Kohout approached the viewers several times in the evening through a special installation on the stage, clearly illustrating historical milestones. The concept of the evening was prepared by dramaturgs Jitka Slavíková and Ondřej Hučín, who carefully selected opera arias, ensembles, and overtures, symbolizing the key moments of the history of the building – world and Czech premieres, outstanding productions, famous singers, conductors and directors, guest performances of famous international opera theatres, as well as Czech history in general.
The State Opera music director Karl-Heinz Steffens conducted the State Opera Orchestra and Choir with important singers from the National Theatre Opera and State Opera and other Czech and international guests, such as Pavel Černoch, Eva Urbanová, Kateřina Kněžíková and the Slovak basso Peter Mikuláš. The audiences also saw the excellent young Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, who made her debut in November 2019 at the Metropolitan Opera in the Queen of Spaces. The aria It Is Midnight could be heard at the gala concert in Prague as well.
The State Opera Orchestra and Choir also played Janáček, Smetana, Puccini, Wagner, and many others. The event was aired live by the Czech Television and ARTE, recordings were made by ZDF from Germany and other European TV stations.
“The purpose of the reconstruction was restoration of the State Opera to the original conditions. The audiences should feel they are back in the Habsburg Monarchy in 1888, to the times when the building was the New German Theatre, which opened 132 years ago. Yet, at the same time, the technical facilities are state-of-the-art. Thus, two worlds meet under the new roof – the past and the present ones. I wish the restored State Opera became the meeting point of various worlds, not only people who go there all the time but it should be a place for those who have never been to the opera house before, for instance,” said Lubomír Zaorálek, the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic.
“I am really happy about great and professionally challenging work of many associates in the theatre and suppliers,” said Prof. MgA. Jan Burian, the director of the National Theatre. “I have been working hard towards the complex reconstruction of the State Opera and it is now at the end. I will now try to support the new artistic heyday in the European contexts. The National Theatre and all its stages want to be artistic institutions to which audiences from the Czech Republic and the world would like to come back,” he added.
WHAT HAS CHANGED
The State Opera had undergone a complex reconstruction in the 1970s. The historical building got new stage technologies, including the unique revolving stage. The second underground floor turned into the modern rehearsal room with excellent acoustics; rehearsal rooms, ballet, orchestra and choir halls, as well as facilities for artist, were reconstructed as well. The operations building has a new design with a glass façade. There were many restorers participating in the reconstruction of the building, who cleaned Eduard Veith’s monumental wall paintings on the auditorium ceiling and unique frescos. The auditorium also saw the installation of new chairs with individual reading devices with optional subtitles.
The extensive reconstruction also included a new curtain. The team of the Stage Design Department at DAMU led by the artistic director of theatre workshops worked on it in the past two years. The curtain was made in National Theatre workshops, inspired by the design of Eduard Veith’s original curtain the visitors saw at the opening of the State Opera (the New German Theatre back then) in 1888. The making of the unique piece took more than 1,000 hours of thorough work. Eduard Veith’s original curtain got mysteriously lost in 1945. The new curtain has replaced the curtain made by the academic painter Antonín Střížek, designed for The Magic Flute production in 2002.
STATE OPERA PLANS
In the first half of 2020 (April 3), the State Opera will stage Karol Szymanowski’s opera King Roger, the piece by the most outstanding figure of Polish music of the early 20th century. The current production directed by Mariusz Treliński will tell a story of a king, who faces the inner fight between reason and order, Christianity and instinct, chaos and a hedonistic lifestyle. The production with the sophisticated set design by Slovak stage designer Boris Kudlička is a coproduction between the National Opera in Warsaw and the Royal Opera in Stockholm.
The National Theatre Ballet will stage Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty in the newly reconstructed building with the choreography of the Brazilian prima ballerina and choreographer Marcia Haydée. The Czech premiere will take place on May 21, 2020 with the State Opera Orchestra. The viewers will also have the opportunity to see La Fille mal gardée and Timeless.
Yet another premiere of the State Opera company is Richard Wagner’s The Master Singers of Nuremberg. It is a key piece in the history of the State Opera, and what is more, Richard Wagner was one of the most frequently played author in the first twenty years after the Opera opened. The Master Singers is one of the most challenging operas as far as length (4.5 hours) and choir requirements are concerned.
Last year’s popular performance of Fidelio returns to the State Opera in the new cast, as well as critically appraised piece Madama Butterfly by Jiří Heřman, La Boheme or La Traviata. Tosca is going to be staged in the restored version from 1999.
“State Opera’s current dramaturgy must be based on its history. It has played an important role in the European opera life since it was established. It has absorbed and created the most important artistic impulses of the time, being engaged in the dialogue with other European opera houses with guest performances of many leading world artists of their time,” says the National Theatre Opera’s artistic director Per Boye Hansen and adds: “My big inspiration is composer Alexander Zemlinsky. In 1911-1927 he was the music director of the State Opera, which was the New German Theatre at that time. Zemlinsky was an innovative experimenter and the State Opera reached the high international level under his guidance.”
Artistic director’s reflections on the Opera repertoire are ambitious and extensive. He wants to stage 19th-century big romantic operas, with the core repertoire of Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini. The repertoire also includes stage late romantic and expressionist impulses from early 20th century – composers like Richard Strauss, Korngold, Schreker, Zemlinsky and Hindemith, as well as classic modern operas from the 20th and 21st centuries, and operas of contemporary composers, including their new pieces. The repertoire does not neglect opera from all periods, which has the potential to approach new audiences: families, young people and those who have never been to an opera house before.
Details of the general reconstruction, including photos and videos, are available at www.statnioperavrekonstrukci.cz