Trip Start Oct 20, 2003
20Trip End Dec 22, 2004
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On 6 May, Fred wrote to Jean Bryant
It is also an amazing place to enjoy music. There are three symphony orchestras in Prague; you may remember that Zdanek McCall used to be conductor of the Milwaukee symphony; now he is music director of the Prague Philharmonic, and we had a chance to see what was called a dress rehearsal he did a few months ago; it was a morning concert in informal dress, and it was a superb performance with only one hint of dress rehearsal: he told the brass at one point that they were a little too loud. And the price was $5. Now that of course is not a typical concert price, but tickets and most everything else here is much cheaper than in the US. I have just been reading that Poland is the cheapest place to live in Europe, but if so, Prague is next. Some concert tickets are $16; last Sunday was the 100th anniversary of Dvorak's death, so they had an all-day festival of his music; we saw Stabat Mater at 5:00 pm for $16. It was very beautiful--another Prague symphony orchestra and the Philharmonic Chorus and four vocal soloists. Of course, the halls are beautiful too. All are refurbished; the most beautiful was redone by the government just after Communism ended in 1989. A Czech tour guide told us that at that time the government was spending money in that way, but not now; money is too hard to come by.
But in general Prague is a big tourist attraction, and the city is clearly spending a lot of money to make it look as good as possible. Both public and private renovations are going on all over town at an amazing rate, and the number of tourists walking along behind their tour guide who is speaking English or German or Japanese is astounding, and there will be more in summer. But even in the coldest of winter there were many tourists. When we went to the winter festival of gift shops in the Old Town Square to shop, we joked that you could hear more conversations in English than in Czech.
We are also enjoying the opera. There are two companies doing opera in repertoire. We have seen La Boheme, La Traviata, and Tosca, and this Sunday we see an opera by Scott Joplin; we don't know anything about it, but thought it would be fun. With Kate and Richard we will see Janacek's "Excursions of Mr. Broucek." Czechs are very proud of Czech composers and perform their work often. On Christmas day with friends visiting from Bratislava, we saw a mass by Ryba that was made out of folk music; it was very enjoyable. Churches in winter are not heated; that afternoon the audience and performers were smothered in coats to keep warm inside a beautiful old church. At best, churches like the one we go to, which is Anglican/Episcopal, have heating units in the pews that heat your seat; I gues if that is warm enough, you can get by, and it certainly helps.
We also recently saw a children's ballet in which the choreographer selected themes of Dvorak and created a story called The Prince and Lucky Annie; the dancers were all very young, and the choreography was a combination of ballet movements and children's play movements--lots of jumping and rolling around on the floor and having a good time. It was very enjoyable, and the children in the audience had a very good time. Annie was clever enough to outwit the witch; the witch was really a good woman who was misunderstood; she ended up married to Annie's father. We didn't regret going but didn't realize it was a ballet for children, because we missed the note that said it was for "deti"--children. We are not having an easy time with the language and make some funny mistakes. I bought plum baby food the first time I tried to find some jam! But we are making progress slowly.
Leonard Bernstein wrote to a friend in 1947 something to the effect that in May the only place in the universe to be is Prague. He was here as part of the Spring Festival. We believe it. Never have we seen anything like it. This was the 59th anniversary year for the Festival. World-class orchestras like St. Martin in the Fields and the BBC Symphony and world-class conductors like Leonard Slatkin and Serge Baudo, world-class soloists like Garrick Ohlsson and Murray Perahia, and on and on and on. We were able to get to some of the concerts but didn't realize that tickets had been on sale since December. Thus we missed out on some we would have liked to see. Oh, well, next time. We have been able to see the Prague Symphony do two programs in the Obecni Dum. One was Dvorak's Stabat Mater and the other was Dvorak's 5th Symphony and the Brahms violin concerto. We have now seen two of the three major orchestras, the Czech Philharmonic and the Prague Symphony. We haven't seen the Czech National Radio Orchestra. We have also seen the two major concert venues: Dvorakova sin (Dvorak Hall) in the Rudolfinum (Philharmonic) and Smetanova sin (Smetana Hall) in Obecni Dum the Symphony. We have also been fortunate to see the Prague Philharmonic Choir on several occasions. They are truly remarkable! They must be a professional choir because they sing many programs with different orchestras throughout the year.
This has also been the year for operas. Since January MS has seen 9 and FM 8. We have seen LaBoheme, La Traviata, Tosca (twice for MS), Turandot, Carmen, Dvorak's Rusalka, Janecek's The Excursions of Mr. Broucek, and Joplin's Treemonisha. With two resident opera companies doing their season in repertoire, it's hard not to want to see something. We have been able to see performances in the Narodni divadlo (National Theatre) and the Statni Opera (State's Theatre). The Statni was originally called the New German Theatre. It is now the main opera venue in Prague. We generally like the performances at the Statni better than those at the Narodni. The latter seem, to us, to be a bit contrived and over produced. It's almost as if they are looking for ways to spend their money.
However, we have seen two wonderful productions: Verdi's Requiem and Janecek's The Excursions of Mr. Broucek. MS saw Tosca at each and wasn't all that impressed with the one at Narodni. The Requiem was something to see and hear. (Richard told his father, a Verdi connoisseur, that we were going to see it and his dad was very jealous.)