This is an historic theater that was inaugurated in 1783 with a performance of the play Emilia Galotti (in German) by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781).
But the truly historic thing happened here just five years later in 1787 when the world’s greatest composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) conducted the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni. Thousands of books have been written about this event, including a recent novel by the German author Hanns-Josef Ortheil, who makes it sound really turbulent. In Ortheil’s version, the premiere threatened to be a flop because Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, insisted on portraying Don Giovanni (Don Juan) as a violent rapist rather than a suave seducer. Enter the good guy, Giacomo Casanova, Europe’s best-known suave seducer of the eighteenth century, who re-wrote the libretto and helped Mozart’s opera to be a great success, which it has remained to this day.
Most of this is just Ortheil’s imagination, but there is some basis in fact. Casanova really was in Prague at the time, and some of the corrections in the original opera score are in his handwriting. But not all scholars agree that his changes improved the libretto, particularly. Lorenzo da Ponte also wrote the texts for two other Mozart operas, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte, both of which were (and still are) hugely successful without any help from Casanova.
When I was in Prague in 2011 there were unfortunately no operas playing at the Estates Theater, so I didn’t get to see the inside. They were advertising a new production of Mozart’s Abduction from the Serail, but the premiere was scheduled for Května, which turns out to mean May, and I was there in Duben (April), so I had no chance.
The Abduction from the Serail (Únos ze Serailu in Czech, Die Entführung aus dem Serail in the original German) is Mozart’s fourteenth opera, composed in 1782 when he was 26 years old. We had a great production of it in Frankfurt not long ago, staged by Christoph Loy.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2021.
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7 thoughts on “The Estates Theater, Prague”
Excellent. The Italian tenor Luigi Bassi sang the title role in the Prague premiere of Don Giovanni. Stendhal, in his Life of Rossini, recalls meeting him and hearing his recollections of Mozart. ‘In 1813, when I was in Dresden, I once met Luigi Bassi, that wonderful old buffo, for whom, twenty-six years earlier, Mozart had written the roles of Don Giovanni, and of Almaviva in le Nozze di Figaro. If I were to tell of the respectful curiosity with which I tried to induce this kindly old man to talk, no one would take me seriously. “Mr Mozart,” he would answer (how entrancing to hear someone who still said Mr Mozart!) “Mr Mozart was an extremely eccentric and absent-minded young man, but not without a certain spirit of pride. He was very popular with the ladies, in spite of his small size; but he had a most unusual face, and he could cast a spell on any woman with his eyes …” On this subject, Bassi told me three or four little anecdotes, which, however, I must refrain from including at this point.’
Thanks for the pertinent quotation. I’ve never read Stendhal’s Life of Rossini, though I’ve been meaning to.
It’s definitely worth a read – and touches on a great deal more than just Rossini. The influences that shaped the work, back to Cimarosa etc.
Interesting that they consider Mozart to be the worlds’ greatest composer.
That’s my opinion, but probably also theirs.
When Friends of Welsh National Opera organised a 10 day trip to Prague and Brno we jumped at the chance to see and hear operas in the places where they were first performed and in some cases had been conducted by .the composer..
In that short time.we were treated to some already well known operas and introduced to some new to us..
From Janacek – Osud -1st time and ; and Jenufa we had heard by WNO.
Rusalka by Dvorak –
A Mozart favourite.- Cosi Fan Tutte
And by Smetana The Bartered Bride.
Not usually keen on group travel shared interests among the group made it a
worthwhile and enjoyable time.
I’ve never heard Osud, but I know the rest. I’m sure it must be fine to see and hear them in their home turf, so to speak.