Opera in Prague

One of the delights of Prague is that the opera tickets are extraordinarily cheap. So in our week there, we went twice — to see Aida and then Rusalka.

I must have listened a few dozen times over the years to the Verdi on CD (particularly the old Karajan recording with Tebaldi/Bergonzi/Simianato). Every note was familiar. But I’ve never seen it before, and always feared that on stage, the opera could not live up to the Aida of the imagination. Perhaps nowadays, the only thing that would really work is a wonderfully sung but very abstract bare staging calling on the audience’s own imagination to fill out the public scenes. This staging, I fear was the opposite — not wonderfully sung and rather too old-fashioned in style  (which made all too obvious the underlying clunkiness of the drama). Indeed, some of the half-hearted dancing sometimes teetered on the comical. The evening was only really saved by a stellar Amneris from Veronika Hajnová.

Rusalka a couple of nights later couldn’t have been a happier contrast. And completely new to me. The staging was rather magical, and the singing outstanding (with Veronika Hajnová again, doubling as the witch and the foreign princess). And what made the evening even more delightful was the very mixed local audience, ranging from the glamorously attired to ordinary-looking families with children. A fairy story, yes, but a dark one, so heaven knows what the young girls who come dressed as water nymphs made of it all! But the reception was rapturous, and the sense of being there for a very Czech occasion made it really rather special.

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