Thursday 9 January 2020

Musica Non Grata: marking the re-opening of Prague State Opera

Prague State Opera (Photo Jakub Fulín)
Prague State Opera (Photo Jakub Fulín)
Prague State Opera (Státní Opera) recently re-opened after a three-year closure for renovation, with a gala on 5 January 2020, under the direction of Karl-Heinz Steffens, the new general music director, celebrating the theatre's original opening on 5 January 1888 as the New German Theatre. The reopening is being marked by a four-year opera and concert series Musica Non Grata exploring the once thriving cultural exchange between the Czech Republic and Germany, showcasing Czech-German-Jewish cultural history in Prague.

Prague, in fact, has three historic theatres. The State Opera was opened in 1888 as the New German Theatre at a time when the number of German speakers in Prague was decreasing and the Czech National Revival was well under way. But as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the relationship between Czech and German culture remained important. There is also the National Theatre (Národní Divadlo) which had its foundation stone laid in 1868 and is a cornerstone of Czech National Revival (the first opera to be presented there was the world premiere of Bedřich Smetana's Libuše), and the historic Estates Theatre, where Mozart's Don Giovanni was premiered.

All three theatres, along with the modern Nová Scéna, will be taking part in Musica Non Grata, and the festival will feature works that originated in Prague and took the world by storm during the first half of the 20th century only to be later silenced through force for political reasons. The series will be launched with a concert on 27 May 2020, featuring excerpts from the works to be performed, followed by a new production of Jaromir Weinberger's opera Svanda Dudak (Svanda the Bagpiper) n 27 Mary 2020. Weinberger's opera premiered in 1926 and was highly popular until Weinberger's music was banned by the Nazi's in the 1930s (Weinberger's family was of Jewish origin).

Other composers whose work will be showcased during Musica Non Grata will be Alexander von Zemlinsky (who was musical director of the Deutsches Landestheater in Prague from 1911 to 1927 and premiered Schoenberg's Erwartung there in 1924), Ernst Krenek (during the closure period the State Opera performed Krenek's Johnny Spielt auf at the National Theatre last year), Franz Schreker, Hans Krasa, Brno-born Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Erwin Schulhoff, Pavel Haas and Viktor Ullmann. There will also be a focus on women composers; the twenties and early thirties was a time of emancipation for female composers and women such as Vitezslava Kapralova, Emmy Destinn, Julie Reisserova and the Scottish-Czech composer Geraldine Mucha (Scottish-born, she married theCzech writer Jiří Mucha, son of the painter Alphonse Mucha, and lived in Prague for 60 yeas), all of whom managed to step out of the shadow of their male colleagues at the time.

All performances of Musica Non Grata will be made available digitally by streaming and some of them will be available subsequently on DVD, CD and in online archives.

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