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Opera

Z divadelného almanachu grófa Johanna Erdödyho (1787; ilustrácia: z opery Karla Dittersa von Dittersdorfa Betrug durch Aberglauben)

Opera has been performed for more than three centuries on the territory of present-day Slovakia. This is true especially for Bratislava. The Hungarian kings were crowned here for approximately three centuries, and this is a city, which called itself the 'suburb' of the imperial capitol. And so the Italian opera companies made trips from Vienna to baroque Bratislava, and later, in the time of Maria-Theresa, the palaces of the loyal aristocracy were built in the city. Regular musical events and theatre and opera performances took place there. From 1785 to 1788, the private opera company of count Johann Nepomuk Erdõdy presented several dozen productions of a wide repertoire ranging from late Baroque to Classicism - seria, buffa, and Singspiel. They played Gluck, Haydn, von Dittersdorf, Schenk, Mozart, Anffosi, Sarti, older Guglielmi, Piccini, Paisiello, Gazzaniga, Cimarosa, Salieri, Grétry, Benda and Martin y Soler. Several titles in the first German translation - Dittersdorf's 'Doktor und Apotheker', 'Betrug durch Aberglauben', 'Liebe im Narrenhaus', 'Democrito coretto', Paisiello's 'Re Teodoro di Venezia', Salieri's 'La Grotta di Trofonio', Storace's 'Equivoci' - were presented only several weeks after the Vienna premieres.

R. Alt-Sandmann: divadelné námestie v Bratislave (litografia, okolo roku 1840)

At that time the townspeople, with the contribution of Count Csáky, built the first stone theatre (1776) in approximately the same place as today's historical building of the SND. The importance of the city declines in the 19th century. The city theatre is rented by German and later Hungarian companies. However, provincial circumstances cannot prevent dramaturgical readiness. Romanticism quickly triumphs here - Boieldieu's 'Jean de Paris' within a year and Weber's 'Freischütz' within four years after their Paris and Berlin premieres. Heinrich Marschner, working at that time as a teacher of music in Bratislava, has the premiere of his 'Kyffhäuserberg' (1816). In the 30's the Italian pre-Verdi bel canto appears on the posters (Rossini's 'Semiramide' and 'Otello', Donizetti's 'Lucrezia Borgia', Bellini's 'Norma' and 'I Puritani'). 'Lohengrin' and 'Tannhäuser' are performed for the first time in Bratislava at approximately the same time when Boito and Faccio performed Wagner in Italy.

Anton Keusch: Mestské divadlo v Bratislave (kresba atramentom, 1886)

In 1886, a new building of the Municipal Theatre is unveiled to the public, built in Neo-Renaissance style according to the design of the Viennese-based theatre architects Helmer and Fellner. The theatre opens with a production of Erkel´s Bánk bán performed by the National Theatre from Budapest. Verismo soon gains upper hand in the new house; in the last year of the century Bruno Walter serves here as répétiteur; early in the new century, the opera company from Brno performs a cross-section of Czech classics and, for the first time in Bratislava, also Tchaikovsky´s ΄Eugene Onegin΄ and ΄The Queen of Spades΄.

Mestské divadlo - budova Slovenského národného divadla roku 1925

In 1919 Bratislava becomes a part of the Czechoslovak Republic. In 1920 the professional Slovak National Theatre starts to work in the building of the Municipal Theatre. The Slovak National Theatre has both a  drama and an opera company. It s first premiere is Smetana's 'The Kiss' on March 1, 1920.

In the period between the two world wars the opera company of the Slovak National Theatre (SND) is most distinctively profiled by two Nedbals: Oskar Nedbal (1923-30) the symphonic conductor and composer of popular ballets and the operetta 'Polenblut', recognized throughout Central Europe - and his nephew Karel (1928-38). In 1924, Oskar Nedbal took the SND Opera to Barcelona (Gran Teatre de Liceu) and Madrid (Teatro Real) with Smetana's 'The Bartered Bride' and Dvořák's 'Rusalka'. This paved the way for the stage entrance of the first professionally educated Slovak singer, the tenor Janko Blaho (1924). As the author of the revised score and its conductor he brought about the first production of the Neo-romantic opera, 'The Blacksmith Wieland' by the Slovak composer Ján Levoslav Bella (1926). This work had been composed in the 1880s.

In the 30's, when Karel Nedbal was its artistic director, the SND Opera became the top opera company within Czechoslovakia, which was not only the home of Czech theatres, but also German companies in the Sudetenland and the Prague Neues Deutsches Theater. The premiere of the second foreign staging of Shostakovich's 'Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk' in November 1935 was attended by Central European opera critics and was broadcast live by French radio. The positive points of Nedbal's modern dramaturgy include productions of operas by Ferroud, Bloch, Zemlinsky, the Czech moderna, but especially the Czechoslovak premiere of Prokofiev's 'Love for Three Oranges' (1931) and Rocco's 'Dibuk' (1937).

Plagát SND z roku 1935

The classical repertoire provided an exquisite cross-section: of Czech classics (Slovak opera had been on the level of unfinished trials at that time), the cycle of Mozart's five most famous works, Gluck's 'Orpheus', Beethoven's 'Fidelio', the French Grand, Comique and Lyrique opera ('Carmen' with original dialogues in prose), Rossini's 'Guillaume Tell', Verdi's 'Simon Boccanegra', 'Don Carlos', 'Otello', 'Falstaff', Wagner's 'Rheingold', 'Tristan und Isolde', 'Parsifal' - the last two by Bayreuth´s Gunnar Graarud and Josef Kalenberg. Of course 'Boris Godunov' and the first four grand operas of Richard Strauss and operas of Janáček. The Czechoslovak premiere of Korsakov's 'The Golden Cockerel' and Mussorgsky's 'Sorochintsky Fair' in the instrumentation of Tcherepnin.

Viktor Šulc

The productions of Viktor Šulc, one of the avant-garde Czech directors between the wars and František Tröster, the father of modern Czech scenography, represent significant staging acts. Šulc created modern socially oriented metaphoric and dynamic operatic theatre. He comprehended opera as the highest stage of theatre synthesis not only in proclamations, but also with the results of his works. He worked in simple space, with stage suggestion, and symbols; he significantly stressed the expressiveness of the productions by the use of lights and projections as exclusively dramatic elements. He delivered the romantic stories ('Les Contes d'Hoffmann', 'Faust') from period props, finding hidden relations between the work and the present (the anti-totality performance of 'Fidelio' in 1936).

In the 1930s, the Bratislava opera was regularly invited to the stages of Vienna theatres and the high-quality Volksoper was invited to Bratislava. Leading soloists regularly appeared on the stage of the SND Opera. Bratislava became almost a resident stage for Maria Németh, one of the Vienna primadonnas and the young and charming Jarmila Novotná. Gerhard, Achsel-Clemens, Kern, Flesch, Anday, Olczewska, Slezak, Pataky, Tauber, Piccaver, Mazaroff, Dermota, Jerger, Svéd, Norbert and other soloists from the Vienna State Opera prepared grand evenings for audiences. The Strauss star, Rose Pauly, a native of Prešov in Eastern Slovakia, performed in Bratislava only once as Martha in d'Albert's 'Tiefland'. Bratislava's performance of Fjodor Shaliapin ('Mefisto', 1934) is still a legend. Bratislava was also acquainted with Puccini's first Calaf, Miquel Flet, and Emmy Destinn, when their fame was waning, and Verdi's primadonna, Zinka Kunc-Milanov (Leonora in 'Il trovatore', 1936 and 1937). At the end of the 1920s Mascagni ('Cavalleria rusticana'), Kienzl ('Evangelimann') and Richard Strauss ('Elektra', 'Rosenkavalier') conducted their operas in Bratislava.

Dr. Janko Blaho a Jarmila Novotná v Pucciniho Madame Butterfly

During the war seasons the company had to do without their previous Czech support. The leading stars of the previous decade (soprano Helena Bartošová, bass Arnold Flögl, tenor Janko Blaho) are in this period joined by a wave of new, mostly Slovak soloists (Margita Česány, Zita Fresová, Mária Kišoňová-Hubová and others). This young and inexperienced company, led by Josef Vincourek, the director, and Štefan Hoza, the dramatic advisor and tenor at the same time, dared to perform Mussorgsky's 'Khovanshchina' and was one of the first foreign theatres to present Egk´s 'Peer Gynt', whose reprise was conducted by the composer himself (1941).

 

The first years after war were filled with experimentation in the field of stage performances in cooperation with modern scenography (director Karel Jernek) and most of all, the expectation of a fitting Slovak national opera. The dream came true on December 10, 1949 with the premiere of 'Whirlpool' by Eugen Suchoň (1908-93). On that night it began its journey across more than thirty European stages; all of the former Czechoslovakia opera theatres produced it many times.

The first decades of communist totality brought a distinct development of original opera creation, and most of these opuses had their premieres on the stage of the SND: Eugen Suchoň's historic drama 'Svätopluk', the first operas of Ján Cikker, 'Juro Jánošík' and 'Beg Bajazid', Miro Bázlik's 'Peter and Lucia' and Juraj Beneš's 'The Emperor's New Clothes', continued in the 80's with 'The Feast'.

After the fading away of dogmatic 'socialist' realism, foreign opera of the 20th century also gets its way. In 1958 we witnessed the first Slovak 'Pelléas and Mélisande' in the SND, followed by works of Britten, Dessau, Egk, Hindemith, Martinů, Menotti, Orff, Prokofiev and Ravel. The 1970s saw the production of works by Bartók and Gershwin. Stravinsky's 'The Rake's Progress', (1982) and Berg's 'Wozzeck', (1986), two modern works of musical theatre of the 20th century, made it to the SND stage in the 1980s.

Starting with the second half of the century the attractive potential of the company is definitively professionalized - there are graduates from conservatories and the musical academy (The College of Music Arts) - conductors, directors, choreographers, chorus masters, soloists. We cannot really imagine the development of original opera works and the premieres of works of the 20th century without Dr. Gustáv Papp and the baritone Juraj Martvoň. Elena Kittnarová excels with her exquisite Emilia Marta (Janáček, 'The Case Makropulos') and Ondrej Malachovský gives a model dimension to creations of main heroic characters from the representative works of the Slovak opera - Suchoň's Stelina ('Whirlpool') and 'Svätopluk'.

The post-occupation forces (1968) misused the representative section of the Slovak opera as the shop window for their cultural politics. In addition to tours of the capital cities of the Soviet Bloc, the SND Opera also travels to festivals in Wiesbaden, Oviedo, Antwerp and Vienna. In return, especially in relation to the Bratislava Music Festival, the SND hosts the Grand Theatre from Moscow, the National Theatre from Sophia, Staatsoper and Komische Oper from Berlin, the opera companies from Leningrad, Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana and the State Opera from Budapest (most of the times with their greatest stars). The Bratislava audience becomes acquainted with Atlantov, Giuzelev and Nesterenko, Vischnevska, Dimitrova, Tomova-Sintow and others. Mirella Freni sings one of her first Tatianas here.

Giuseppe Verdi: Maškarný bál (1986; réžia: Miroslav Fischer; Peter Dvorský ako Riccardo, Jitka Zerhauová ako Ulrica)

In the 70's the next generation of singers appear and are capable of appearing on international stages, with the tenor Peter Dvorský and the bass Sergej Kopčák at the head. Decades earlier, the graduates of artistic schools debuting in the SND (Lucia Popp, Edita Gruberová) had to illegally flee their country and choose the destiny of an emigrant with no possibility of returning in order to fully develop and use their talents abroad.

The musical productions receive the most distinctive cachet by conductors of the older generation lead by Ladislav Holoubek, Tibor Frešo and Zdeněk Košler (1970s) and Ondrej Lenárd (1980s). The creation of the top Czech directors in the first post-war decades (Jernek, Kašlík, Wasserbauer) continues especially by the temperamental realist Miroslav Fischer and the more stylized forms of Branislav Kriška. At the dawn of totality young Marián Chudovský with his provocative and controversial 'Rigoletto' entered the opera; and Jozef Bednárik crosses over from the theatre to the opera theatre with his debauchery Baroque - revue source of ideas.

November 1989 brings not only the fall of totality, but a much more difficult environment for culture. The aspects of commercialization also infiltrate the orientation of the SND Opera - dramaturgy prefers the return to traditional well-proven values. The positives of these years under leadership of the Director Juraj Hrubant are represented by other Bednárik projects, such as 'Les Contes d'Hoffmann', 'Don Quijote' and 'L'incoronazione di Poppea', of the director Milan Sládek. Noteworthy foreign trips include participation at the Edinburgh Festival (1990) and trips to Paris (1996) and Japan (1997).

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Performance todayFollowing performance

Wednesday, 25. 5. 2016, 19:00
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Così fan tutte