Prague opera

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The history of Prague opera is rich with the magnificence of world premiers, the brilliance of virtuoso performers and the struggle of a nation to express itself through the artform. While the opera reflects the spirit of a people, the buildings in which it came to life have been the arenas where culture has flourished. The most notable of these, the Prague State Opera, the National Theatre and the Estates Theatre have competed and contributed to a full and fervent love of opera.

The contrasts and commonalities of the Czech and German operatic traditions have long been a matter of comment and inspiration. In many areas, the German influence has been overtaken by the rise of the Czech Republic, but the importance of the German language and German art cannot be forgotten. The building which now houses the Prague State Opera originally came into being as a Prague German venue, opening in1888 with Wagner’s, “The Mastersingers of Nümberg”.

Having shared the Estates Theatre for much of the nineteenth century, the Prague German’s yearned for a space that could be dedicated to their work. With a team of architects from Vienna and Prague and money from private sources plans were set in motion in 1883.The result was a building, acclaimed by some to be the most beautiful Theatre in Europe, consisting of a large auditorium and a neo-Rococo decor.

On its bill of artists who have performed with the Prague State Opera are stars such as, Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, Nellie Melba, Karl Burian, Enrico Caruso and Tino Pattiera. But the sale of the theatre to the Czechoslovak state had dire consequences and it closed in the latter half of 1938. The Occupation meant that regular performances were impossible with only productions by a handful of German companies being staged.

When Prague was at last freed from the Nazi oppression, the Theatre was revived and eventually became a part of the National Theatre. In latter years, the Prague State Opera has again stood alone and provided a forum for the tradition of German theater.

The National Theatre itself was the product of nationalistic pride bubbling over in the form of contributions from the public in the hope of establishing a truly and independent Czech identity. The money raised from the Czech people made construction possible and the laying of the foundation stone in 1868 could well have been mistaken for a political demonstration.

Five years later an ongoing competition for the design of the interior of the building began with parameters acknowledging the culture and mythology of the region, while engaging the Neo-Renaissance nature of classical building. The Theatre opened for the first time on the 11th of June, 1881, in honour of a Crown Prince, but faced a tumultuous series of events including a fire, a public appeal and a redesigning before it eventually opened anew on the 18th of November, 1883.

Similarly, the Estates Theatre was born of a desire to reclaim the culture and art of the Czech people. Although it opened to the strains of a German production and it took three years before a performance in Czech could be staged, the desire to express the artistic spirit of the people was ever-present. Nowhere was this clearer than in the inscription Patriae et Musis, which is set above the portal and translates to mean, “To the Native Land and the Muses.”

In the course of its history the Estates Theatre has played host to world premier performances of Mozart’s and was revisited for the shooting of the 1984 Oscar-winning film Amadeus. Like the three major theatres of Prague, the Estates Theatre resounds with national pride and a love and respect for the arts. Through these elements there is an ongoing commitment to the future of theatre in the Czech Republic.


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