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Bedřich Smetana 1824-1884

Opera in three acts
Libretto by Josef Wenzig
First performed May 16 1868; 2nd edition December 2 1870, Neustädter Theatre, Prague
Translated into German by Kurt Honolka

Sung in German with German and English surtitles. ca. 2hrs 45mins, including interval
Introduction, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin

It was a wonderful holiday. Beer flowed. The foundation stone of the National Theatre in Prague was laid on May 16 1868, opening 13 years later, when anti-Austrian demonstrations reached their first climax, with Smetana's lyrical drama Libuše. The theatre burnt down shortly afterwards. But on that joyful day in 1868, ten thousand people came to the city from all over Bohemia and Moravia; many in traditional costume. Bedrich Smetana, the speaker of the Czech artists' guild said: „Czechoslovakia's love is in music.“ His only tragic opera, which he fully intended to be a national opera, was performed for the first time on that May evening at the Heustädter Theatre.

The story of a Czech knight, in the late-Middle Ages, waiting in a cell in Prague castle to be executed for murdering a tyrant, with no hope of being rescued by the woman who loves him, by donning mens' clothing, as happens in some other operas, did not turn out to be the longed for success work he had hoped for. Quite the opposite! The composer was accused of being too pro-German and – worse still, and not just because of his use of the Leitmotiv – that most un-Czech of all – a Wagnerite. Smetana, whose libretto was originally written in German, was very hurt by this reaction. This enormous work for the stage was, for him, until his painful death in 1884, his biggest headache and best thing he had ever written. He liked to dismiss his Verkauften Braut/The Bartered Bride as a marginal, minor work.

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