This statue of the composer Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) is appropriately located on the right bank of the Vltava River, perhaps better known internationally by its German name Moldau. Behind the Smetana statue in my photo is the Vlatava (Moldau) River, the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle and the St. Vitus Cathedral.
To this day Smetana’s most popular work is no doubt his symphonic poem Vlatava (The Moldau), which is often played in concerts and supposedly also in the planes of Czech Airlines after each landing. (Perhaps someone who has flown with Czech Airlines can confirm this?)
Actually, Vlatava is one of six symphonic poems which Smetana composed between 1874 and 1879. He later brought them together under the title Má vlast, meaning “My Country” or “My Homeland”.
Smetana also composed eight operas, all of which are still performed sometimes in the Czech Republic (though not when I was there).
One of his operas is also still performed regularly all over the world, namely his comic opera The Bartered Bride (Prodaná nevěsta), which I have seen in Bad Orb, Leipzig and Frankfurt am Main.
In February 2019 the Frankfurt Opera presented another Smetana opera, the little-known Dalibor, in an extremely modernized staging that had some clever ideas but didn’t really make much sense overall. Though I suspect that the opera as it was originally presented in Prague in 1868 didn’t make much sense, either. It was an attempt to transform a brutal fifteenth-century knight into a Czech national hero, which didn’t even convince the Czech nationalists, much less anyone else.
The Frankfurt production of Dalibor starred the Czech tenor Aleš Briscein in the title role. (I had seen him eight years earlier as Nemorino in Donizetti’s Elisir d’amore in Prague.) He knew the role of Dalibor in Czech, but at some point the Frankfurt Opera decided to do it in German, so he had to learn the German text in quite a hurry.
To me it was funny to see the American soprano Angela Vallone in Dalibor as a rebellious street-fighting girl, since she is so completely different in real life.
Right behind his statue is the entrance to the Smetana Museum, which documents the composer’s life and work.
Although Smetana was an ardent Czech nationalist, he grew up speaking German and didn’t really learn Czech until he was in his early thirties. (Some say his later operas are better for this reason, because the music fits better to the Czech text.)
The museum includes detailed text panels, in Czech and English, about all phases of Smetana’s life including the years he spent in Gothenburg, Sweden, as a teacher and chorus master.
Here you can watch the trailer of Smetana’s Dalibor
at the Frankfurt Opera (in German).
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2019.
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