Culture, Travel & Sport

Curtain rises once again at the Prague opera

After almost three years of reconstruction work, the curtain has gone up once again at Prague’s State Opera. The historical building reopened to the public on January 5, 2020, exactly 132 years since its first inauguration in 1888.

The opening concert saw the staging of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, directed by Karl-Heinz Steffens, the musical director of the opera. It continued with a performance by soloists from both the opera the national theatre, as well as renowned Czech singers such as tenor Pavel Cernoch and sopranos Eva Urbanova and Katerina Knezikova, as well as Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen.

“The objective of the reconstruction was to restore the opera house to its original state,” says Lubomír Zaorálek, the Czech minister of culture. “The audience should thus have a feeling that they have returned to the times of the Habsburg monarchy of 1888. To the times when the building still was the New German Theatre, inaugurated exactly 132 years ago.”

In fact, the State Opera has an intriguing history. In the late 1880s, the German community in Prague built a new theatre in response to the construction of the Czech National Theatre, as well as owing to the necessity for a larger venue. The Neo-Renaissance building, with Neo-Rococo interior décor, designed by the Vienna-based architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, did not outshine the National Theatre in terms of the artistic expression, yet it had a larger stage and a higher seating capacity than any other theatre venue in Prague, which still holds true today.

“At the same time, the technical part of the theatre will be state-of-the-art,” continues Mr Zaorálek. “Thus, two worlds will meet under the new roof – the past and the present. I wish for the State Opera in its restored look to become a meeting point for different worlds so that it attracts not only the same people all the time but also those who have perhaps never been to an opera before.”

The State Opera underwent its last comprehensive repairs in the 1970s. The historical building is now equipped with new stage technologies, including a state-of-the-art turntable. A brand-new rehearsal room with excellent acoustics is located in the second basement. The original rehearsal rooms, the ballet, orchestra and choir studios, as well as the artists’ dressing rooms, have been renovated. The operations building is afforded a new garb — its glass façade. New seats have been installed in the auditorium, all of them newly furnished with a reading device for the viewer to choose the respective captions.

“I am delighted with the huge and technically demanding work of many collaborators within the theatre and building contractors,” summarises Jan Burian, Director of the National Theatre, after reconstruction works that costed 1.3 billion crowns (51 million euros). “I worked towards a comprehensive reconstruction of the State Opera and it has reached its finale. Now, I will work towards its new artistic blossoming in the European context. The National Theatre with all its stages wants to be an artistic institution to which both local and foreign audiences would want to return.”

A number of foreign politicians, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and German Government Commissioner for Culture Monika Grütters, attended the opening and listened to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Leos Janacek, Richard Strauss, Bedrich Smetana, Bohuslav Martinu and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Popular productions, including Fidelio and Madame Butterfly, are returning to the opera’s repertoire, and new operatic premieres are being prepared, such as King Roger by Karol Szymanowski, which will be staged in co-production with Warsaw’s Grand Theatre and the Royal Opera in Stockholm.