Last week, I enjoyed the State Opera and Orchestra’s presentation of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. It was my first time inside the glorious State Opera building. The theatre is within walking distance of my apartment and near the National Museum and Wenceslas Square.
History State Opera Building
Recently refurbished, the State Opera building has interesting history. In the late 1880s, the existing century-old building – German Estates Theatre – didn’t meet increasing staging requirements, so Prague’s “German community built a new theatre” – today’s State Opera. The new building was constructed partially “in response to the 1883 creation of the Czech National Theatre” – maybe a competition of sorts?
In 1787, the world premiere of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni, was conducted at the German Estates Theatre. The old building still exists, and is now known as the Estates Theatre. Mozart’s popular opera still appears in the repertoire, and is playing there September 23.
The State Opera is a Neo-Renaissance building with Neo-Rococo interior décor. It was designed by Viennese architects. Although it has a larger stage and a higher seating capacity, it “doesn’t outshine the National Theatre in terms of artistic expression”. In addition to the State Opera, these are the current national theatre venues in Prague:
- National Theatre built 1883
- Estates Theatre oldest theatre in Prague opened 1783 and part of the National Theatre since 1920
- New Stage built 1983
La Traviata is one of Verdi’s “best-known, most romantic, and tragic operas”. It’s been mirroring society’s “hypocritical morals for 170 years”. In three acts, La Traviata portrays the story of Violetta Valéry, a mortally ill Parisian courtesan. Violetta “lives for pleasure” and does not believe in love, until her friend Gaston introduces her to a naïve young man named Alfredo, of the dignified Germont family”. Violetta falls deeply in love with Alfredo but soon realizes that she must give him up. She leaves him and then “dies in poverty while dreaming of the happiness she finally found in true love”.
“In my opinion, it is impossible to create characters until one has spent a long time in studying men, as it is impossible to speak a language until it has been seriously acquired.” Alexandre Dumas The literature Network
Verdi’s opera is based on a novel by Alexander Dumas Jr., The Lady with the Camellias, and is the first significant opera with a contemporary social theme. Dumas’ novel recounts the life of, Mary Duplessis, the famous French courtesan and idol of Parisian society in the 1840s.
The plight of Violetta makes sense, regardless of whether we see her as a 19th Century courtesan, a 21st Century prostitute, or something else altogether!” The Opera 101
At the opera’s release in Venice in 1853, the audience found it “unacceptable and was shocked that the main role was intended for a courtesan, also portrayed as a positive character”. The premiere “ended in a fiasco”. Since then, Verdi’s Traviata has celebrated many triumphs, and today is one of the world’s most popular repertoire titles.
Traviata has been performed many times in Prague. It “became an opportunity to host famous foreign opera singers, including the legendary Australian soprano Nellie Melby (April 18, 1900)”. These are some of the fantastic artists from last week:
- Opera Conductor – Jiří Štrunc
- Violetta Valéry – Simona Houda-Šaturová
- Alfredo Germont – Luis Gomes
- Giorgio Germont – Łukasz Golinski
- Flora Bervoix – Sylva Čmugrová
- Viscount Gastone de Letorières – Michal Bragagnolo
- Baron Douphol – Roman Vocel
- Marquis d’Obigny – Miloš Horák
- Annina Violetta’s Maid – Erika Vocelová Jarkovská
- Dr. Grenville – Oleg Korotkov
A Verdi opera is unequalled for intensity and vivid drama, and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and later, the walk home. I passed by the National Museum – breathtaking when washed in nighttime fountain colors!