Primo first balcony tickets for you and your mother to Aida at Prague's National Theatre (Narodni Divadlo): $72
Program book with full libretto, life of Verdi, production sketches, and photo gallery of great Czech Aidas past: $2.50
Glass of wine at intermission: $1.60 (!)
Pharoah's army comprised of 50 pale, skinny Central European guys looking very uncomfortable with their shirts off: F'n priceless...
Good show Wednesday at Prague's National Theatre (pictures forthcoming)--Aida was Olga Romanko, a delightful Russian soprano who my mother thinks she's seen at Lyric before. Vocally, she was probably a cut above the other principles, with a big elegant sound and vocal money moments to spare. In the opposite corner, local girl Jolana Fogasova to' it up as Amneris. Early on, it seemed like she was getting lost in the orchestra, and I wondered if she could cut it in a bigger space. But this was largely forgotten by Act 4--her exchange with Radames COOKED. All requisite surl and bitterness was vivdly rendered, no doubt helped by the fact that she let the slavic vowels fly when letting someone have it.
Chilean Jose Azocar was a hit or miss Radames--at his best, he demonstrated a rich melting tone and strong top (thankfully moreso near the end), but at other times his vibrato was a little too wide and he sounded harsh. Among the supporting cast, the standout had to be Vladimir Chmelo (another Czech) who brought a lovely, effortless lyric baritone to Amonsaro. Production wise, there was something of an Aida-in-a-box quality, but no doubt grand enough. The choreography, it should be noted, came off much as expected, i.e. like an Eastern bloc remake of the "Walk like an Egyptian" video.
Of the three houses that present opera in Prague, the National Theatre takes on the really big shows--besides Aida, their Ring cycle happens here as well. The dress code is somewhat more formal than in America, probably 85% of the men in coat and tie, including some in formal military dress, and some for reals dresses on the floor. There was quite a mix of old, young, and middle aged patrons, which just might have something to do with the fact that upper balcony seats can be had for 3 dollars...mercy.
Best of all (besides the inexpensive intermission drinks of course), at the final curtain calls, no one bailed and there was no gratuitous standing ovation...instead the entire audience applauded vigorously through 3 ensemble bows and recognition for all the principles. I don't know why so many people at American opera feel they can bolt after the last note, but it is a much more satisfying end when ALL of the audience takes the 5 lousy minutes to show some appreciation for the artists onstage.
More to come...
P.S. In Czech, Smetana also means "cream," i.e., "leave some room for smetana in my coffee," or, "smell this smetana and tell me if you think it's ok." That means his name is like "Bedrich Cream". For his sake, let's hope high school wasn't so cruel back then.
The National Theatre from the other side of the Vltava.