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Smetana's The Kiss is not about the kiss

TO PAY homage to last century's composers and to the tradition of its Slavic repertoire, the Opera of the Slovak National Theatre (SND) decided to include Czech composer Bedřich Smetana's opera The Kiss on its schedule. The premiere took place on May 30.
"This work was in the programme that opened the theatre in 1920. But then the repertoire started to incline more toward Italian verismo, outbalancing the Slavic, Czech opera. We needed to correct that trend, and this work caught our attention," said Pavol Smolík, the director of the SND's current version of The Kiss, at the May 27 press conference.
Smolík's interpretation of the renowned composer's work is going to be surprise for opera veterans as well as newcomers. The reason is that the opera's libretto, about whether or not to give a kiss, has been criticised for being too banal, leading the producers to try a new approach.


IVETA Jiříková as Vendulka...
photo: Courtesy of SND

TO PAY homage to last century's composers and to the tradition of its Slavic repertoire, the Opera of the Slovak National Theatre (SND) decided to include Czech composer Bedřich Smetana's opera The Kiss on its schedule. The premiere took place on May 30.

"This work was in the programme that opened the theatre in 1920. But then the repertoire started to incline more toward Italian verismo, outbalancing the Slavic, Czech opera. We needed to correct that trend, and this work caught our attention," said Pavol Smolík, the director of the SND's current version of The Kiss, at the May 27 press conference.

Smolík's interpretation of the renowned composer's work is going to be surprise for opera veterans as well as newcomers. The reason is that the opera's libretto, about whether or not to give a kiss, has been criticised for being too banal, leading the producers to try a new approach.

"The opera's hour-and-a-half conflict about giving a kiss is not that appealing to today's viewers, but to listen to the music can still be an interesting experience," Smolík said. "It seems like the whole work is just about the kiss, but it's mainly about the music actually."

The sentimental, lyrical opera is full of dramatic skits, constrained by Czech folk traditions, and it is almost impossible to meddle with it. Nevertheless, Smolík and his team tried to freshen up the piece for today's audience.

"Today, viewers are too shallow to get the opera's message, unfortunately, so we are shifting their focus to make them realise that the opera is not just about whether somebody kisses somebody else or not," he says, adding that the opera's performers had already been taken aback by the changes he incorporated into the work.


....AND Michal Lehotský as Lukáš, with the object of his desire.
photo: Courtesy of SND

The Kiss also raised mixed expectations before it was first performed. It was the first vocal work Smetana finished after going completely deaf, in 1874, and the audience wondered whether the deafness had effected the composer's genius.

Smolík's interpretation of the opera is the 12th production of The Kiss the SND has staged. The music was arranged by the Czech principal conductor of the Janáčkova Opera in Brno, Jaroslav Kyzlink, who aimed to do something new with it. He is also one of the work's two conductors, along with Martin Mázik.

The costumes designed by Ľudmila Várossová are also a little unexpected, moving away from the traditional folk spirit of the opera, as is the set, which has also been modernised.

"It has always seemed to me that the [SND's previous] sets were too naive. The music, as well as the text, is about something more profound," said the set designer, Milan Ferenčík.

"Maybe it's about time to change the opera's name too."

- Zuzana Habšudová

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