Bohumil Hrabal’s life to be told in an opera

The novelist died 20 years ago, and the opera intends to put him in a new light

A new opera about Czech author Bohumil Hrabal will have its world premiere at the New Stage of the National Theatre on Dec. 14. The celebrated Czech writer died in 1997 at the age of 82, when he fell from a hospital window while trying to feed pigeons.

Hrabal is best known internationally for his 1965 novel Closely Watched Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky), which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. Other popular novels that have been translated include I Served the King of England (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále), The Little Town Where Time Stood Still (Městečko, kde se zastavil čas) and Too Loud a Solitude (Příliš hlučná samota).

Despite his fame, he could often be seen at local pubs in Prague, in particular, U zlatého tygra, an inexpensive place where he was a regular.

The opera, called Don Hrabal, was commissioned by the National Theatre and written by Miloš Orson Štědroň.

“In my opinion, Hrabal was one of the world's greatest 20th-century authors. He has been acclaimed internationally as a writer of truly global stature. In his own country, however, he had to confront the Czech pettiness, not only during the 'normalization' period but even in the 1990s, when he was expelled from the PEN Club. I regard the premiere of my new opera as an opportunity to launch a new Hrabal discourse, which should be conducted across Czech society. … Czech society is in dire need of such a debate," Štědroň said.

Roman Janál will appear in the title role and be onstage throughout the performance.

“I will do my very best to give a veritable portrayal of Hrabal, a truly extraordinary figure in the history of Czech literature. I believe that when exploring the role I, at least to a certain degree, succeeded in identifying myself with Hrabal's personality and grasping his view of people and understanding the sense of our existence in the world. I perceive it as a specific kind of philosophy, a spiritual approach to life," he said.

Three female figures in Hrabal's will be played by Yukiko Kinjo (Muse), Jana Sýkorová (Pipsi) and Lenka Šmídová (Mother).

The opera also features a chorus of his cats and a flock of pigeons. The National Theatre Orchestra and Chorus will be conducted by Jan Chalupecký.

The opera is directed by Linda Keprtová. “The opera is centered on Bohumil Hrabal himself, his personal universe, his images, which every one of us may perceive differently, and his words, which every one of us may construe differently,” Keprtová said.

The opera examines the key relationships in Hrabal's life. “The relationship [include] one's mother, the relationship with the opposite sex, one's loves, desires, the path towards death, regardless of our taking it into account or not. The opera also highlights Hrabal's unquenchable thirst — not only for beer but, most significantly, for being humans. Through his lens, humanity comes across as the most wonderful and most precious thing we may encounter in this world,” she added.

This is the second time Hrabal inspired the composer Miloš Orson Štědroň. “Hrabal is featured as one of the lead characters in the production ´Beautiful Typewriters!', which is part of the repertoire of Divadlo Na zábradlí. I simply first tested him out on a small stage,” Štědroň said.

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