Saturday, January 13, 2007

Concert Chasing in Prague

Statue of Il Commendatore outside the Stavovske Divadlo in Prague, the theater where Don Giovanni was premiered

Chalk it to my lack of exposure to the town, but if you ask me, the Prague concert scene is kinda weird. Apparently, anyone can get a booking on the calendar in Prague.

When you are a tourist, there are these people following you around town, handing out flyers for crappy concerts (a string sextet of locals playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Gounod's Ave-Maria, for instance), and some of these concerts actually take place at respectable historical venues. One of these characters with flyers approached me, trying to sell a ticket for a Mozart Requiem ("with big orchestra," he said) for 1000 Czech corunas. I walked away, and they came back and lowered the price to 800 corunas. After offering a third reduction to 500 corunas, the seller's desperation was palpable, making me increasingly uncomfortable. I didn't know what else to do, so I just excused myself by saying that I didn't like Mozart.

Then, more billable talent is actually promoted in a way that is wholly disproportionate, in a way that in the U.S. would befit pop stars. Announcing a recital by Rolando Villazon at the end February, the Prague promoters had his giant posters placed at virtually every train and metro stop in town. And the ticket prices weren't much more above the asking price of the forementioned big-orchestra-Requiem.

Rolando Villazon poster at a bus stop in the burbs of Prague

So the choice I made was to attend a new production of La Clemenza di Tito at the Stavovske Divadlo, the very theater where this opera was premiered, in 1791. Composed for Prague's coronation of Leopold II, this was the opera that just about killed Mozart, rather ironic considering how the Czechs have adopted Mozart as if he was one of their own. We bought tickets from someone outside the theater near curtain time for 800 crowns apiece, and ended up with a box all to ourselves. Standing room tickets, I found out, cost only 30 crowns (about US$1.50).

The production was an ultra-modern affair, in chic modern dress, with an all-white "tunnel" set. The staging often had characters rolling on the floor convulsing, as in tortured Kafkaesque character studies. Vocally, a few bright moments, but rather disappointing overall. Most of the cast was made of local names with lots of haceks, and Titus in particular could really go back to the studio and sing some more Caro mio ben and Vaccai exercises. The one bright exception was the American mezzo Kate Aldrich, who delivered Sesto's great arias brilliantly. I am told she was one of the Carmens recently in San Francisco.

© 2007 C. Chang

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