An opera disaster unfolding in Praguemain
The Czech government is forcibly merging the State Opera with the National Theatre, demolishing 150 year-old separate traditions. The National was founded by Smetana and sang in Czech; what is now the State Opera was originally the German Theatre and had Mahler and Zemlinsky as chief conductors.
But tradition counts for nothing in politics and the demolition of an opera house in ‘a faraway country… (of which) we know nothing’ has attracted no outside attention, none of the outcry that justly attends the destruction of Dutch infrastructures. If you love Prague, now is the time to shout. Here’s an update on the local protests.
And here’s an insider account sent to me, in Czech-English:
On June 6, 2011 the minister of culture Ji?í Besser (former profession dentist, former party Communist) announced the fusion of the National Theatre in Prague (NT) with the Prague State Opera (PSO), starting January 1, 2012. The PSO Ballet will be disestablished and there will be only one National Ballet (Ballet of the NT with its present chief Petr Zuska). In spite that minister Besser declares that there will be NT orchestra and choir and PSO orchestra and choir, it is clear that in fact it tends to the liquidation of the PSO. The management is already only one: the present director of the NT Ond?ej ?erný is director in charge of the PSO and since July 1, 2011 there will be one head of the opera, young Slovenian stage manager Rok Rappl.
Minister Besser announced this fusion without submitting any analyses of the functioning of the ensembles and buildings to which the fusion was to pertain. A good manager would have first ordered audits of the affected organizations (which are administered by and partly funded by the Ministry of Culture). He would have had variant solutions prepared, publicly compared them, and only then have made a decision by approving the chosen conception. However, Mr. Besser preferred the style of Zden?k Nejedlý (Stalinist Minister of Culture). He himself knows best what is good for opera, even without analyses, without audits, without variants, and without a conception. He has already announced it to the nation: ‘The Czech capital has room for only one opera and ballet company.’ Whatever it costs.
Prague State Opera has about 45% economical self-sufficiency. The ballet performance (mostly classical ones) has 85%-99% attendance. The visitors are not only Czech, but also many foreign visitors, who are the economical benefit to the City of Prague. Within the two last years the National Theatre has under the direction of Ond?ej ?erný the well balanced economy only owing to liquidation of the reserve fond (almost 100 milions of crowns). The Minister Besser repeadly refused to publish the results of the economical control from June 2010. So the bad manager ?erný who led the National Theatre nearly to the collapse, is now managing both theatres…
Finally, here is a letter I’ve been sent on the need for saving the State Opera by the conductor Jan-Latham Koenig (above):
I have been considering the question of the two Prague opera companies, since I conducted the Tristan and Isolde premiere last May, and would like to offer a few comments. In the first place, there is not only room but a necessity to maintain both leading opera houses in a city, such as Prague, which is one of the most cultured cities in Europe with a rich musical tradition, rivalled by only Vienna in Central Europe. The repertoires of the two houses should be and must be complementary, with only occasional overlaps. What do I mean by this? Emerging from its German roots, the PSO should be most motivated, after the success of Tristan to explore much further this part of its heritage. In the first place, what an orchestra such as that of the PSO needs, is repertoire that challenges it, stretches it, and in working hard of this repertoire , such as more Wagner operas, Weber, even the twentieth century masterpieces, such as Wozzeck. The orchestra, as proved by last May’s Tristan is fully capable of performing to the very highest artistic level, given the right motivation. I would like to stress that what makes orchestras lose their standards is not lack of talent but lack of self discipline and being constantly challenged by new repertoire and most exigent conductors… I believe very firmly that with a great team, the orchestra, chorus, soloists and production department will work together to produce an overall artistic level which could be compared to the finest houses in Western Europe and North America.