The Slovak National Theater's opera house.
"This season's offerings give you an idea of the power of Slovakia's opera tradition," said Vladimír Zvara, art director at the Opera of the Slovak National Theater. "Opera-goers will have an enormous range of pieces to choose from."
The stars on and behind the stage
The opera staging teams at the Slovak National Theater (SND) in Bratislava consist of graduates of the Academy of Dramatic Arts and Music in Bratislava, in addition to experienced artists. Performance directors include Miroslav Fischer, SND's general director, and Ondrej Lenárd, the opera director.
"Lenárd is the greatest conducting personality in Slovakia," Zvara said. "He's a big draw for the opera, and this year has prepared a very dramatic performance of Puccini's Tosca. He really sets our musical profile."
But the opera's trump cards have always been its soloists. Many world-famous opera singers of Slovak origin (soprano Edita Gruberová, tenor Peter Dvorský) got their start on the SND's cozy wooden stage. Several younger-generation soloists have won important contests, such as baritones Martin Babjak and Jozef Kundlák, who were chosen as laureates in a contest organized by that famed Italian songman, Luciano Pavarotti. The opera's marquée attractions for this season are two sopranos and three male voices - Ľubica Vargicová and Ľubica Rybárska, bass Peter Mikuláš, tenor Ľudovít Ludha and baritone Babjak. Mikuláš in particular makes a thunderous contribution to the stage.
October 1997 holds several attractions for opera patrons. The ever-reliable Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlo hits the stage on October 8, and features both Mikuláš and Rybárska. On October 14th, another old stalwart, Rossini's amusing Barber of Seville, features Babjak as Figaro. Verdi gets two more chances, one on the 16th with La Traviata and the dramatic Vargicová, and the second with Il Trovatore on the 20th. This last show features some of the other soloists who deserve, but rarely get, mention.
Zvara hastens to add that the Bratislava opera house offers ballet performances as well - in October alone, four ballets are scheduled, as well as one "ballet for children" - an unconventional fairy tale named "Snow Maiden and the Seven Champions." SND offerings are now strong enough, Zvara said, to attract sizeable audiences from Austria. "The money they bring in is important," he said. "We could not afford such a diverse program without their help."
Bratislava's opera tradition dates from the 1920's, but curiously did not originally rest on the talents of domestic Slovak composers. The company's first performance was the Czech composer Bedňich Smetana's famous opera The Kiss, while in 1924 the opera toured Barcelona and Madrid with Smetana's The Barded Bride and the Czech Antonín Dvořak's Rusalka.
The first Slovak opera - Wieland the Blacksmith by Jan Levoslav Bella - was not staged until 1926. By the 1930's, with a mixture of foreign and native productions, the Slovak National Theatre Opera House was becoming a major force on the central European operatic scene.
The Second World War had a predictably dampening effect on culture in Slovakia, but liberation in 1945 brought the stage back to prominence. Slovak conductors by now had won a fair Europe-wide reputation for themselves, and the SND in Bratislava was the setting of the premiere of any new opera written in the country.
Today, the Bratislava opera house stages an average of 170 performances a season (each season lasts from September to June). The opera repertoire is all-embracing, including works from classic, romantic and contemporary ages. Even the American composer George Gershwin, the British Benjamin Britten and the Russian Sergej Prokofiev get a look-in, and artistic highlights of the last decade include the German Richard Strauss's Electra, modern stagings of Verdi's Rigoletto and the French Charles Gounod's Faust and Margarethe, which won the Critics Award at the 1990 Edinburgh Festival.
9. Oct 1997 at 0:00 | Katarina Boďová