Two operas by Orff premiering at the National Theatre

The works are based in Brothers Grimm stories and have a wide appeal

The National Theatre Opera is presenting two one-act fairytale operas: Die Kluge and Der Mond by Carl Orff. These operas premiere Oct. 20 and 21, 2016, at the National Theatre under the baton of Zbyněk Müller with stage direction by Jiří Nekvasil. Orff is best-known for Carmina Burana, but he had a varied career spanning from the 1920s to 1977.

Both operas are based on fairytales by the Grimm brothers. Die Kluge (The Wise Girl) is about a poor but shrewd peasant girl who can answer any riddle, outwits the three swindlers and even wins the love of the king. Der Mond (The Moon) is about foolish people who steal the Moon for themselves until Peter, the guard of heaven, retrieves it and hangs it in the sky, out of reach of their meddlesome hands.

“Orff's intention was to entertain and educate in a noble way, particularly the more adult audience. The composer found that the operatic form that can captivate audiences of the late 20th century,” conductor Zbyněk Müller said. “The combination of an innocent child's world with the corruption of the adult world seems really attractive and original. This contrast certainly highlights one of the small messages that we can find in this piece.”

Director Jiří Nekvasil said the tales of the Brothers Grimm are quite eccentric in comparison with the traditional ones. “They often do not contain any specific point and the plot sometimes even does not have the happy ending. Usually they have rather bizarre narration with a variety of metaphors familiar with certain truths. It is obvious even in Orff's opera Der Mond, which is called the 'theatrum mundi.' He intentionally uses all sorts of magic-fantastic speeches to enable a deeper understanding of things around us,” he said.

“Die Kluge is far more direct. It represents essentially a conversational tale without magic, which is about vanity and smarts,” he said. Nekvasil returns along with designer Daniel Dvořák after three years to the stage of the National Theatre. Their most recent previous collaboration there was Smetana's opera The Two Widows.

The second conductor besides Zbyněk Müller is Nikol Kraft, a student of conducting at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts. She participates in the preparation of new productions as the first female conductor who is going to lead the performances with the Orchestra of the National Theatre.

“The extreme characters in Die Kluge or a variety of situations and fantastic scenes of Der Mond are reflected in the sharp contrasts and musical diversity — we can hear alternating references to the influences of medieval popular Bavarian folk music and utilization of fabulous sound effects in vocal and instrumental parts, the sound of the wind and thunder included. Both of Orff's opera are original and revitalizing items of the world opera repertoire of the 20th century,” Nikol Kraft said.

The strange thing is that in both operas the female character is featured only once: Die Kluge, sung by Jana Sibera alternated by Olga Jelínková. Among other soloists the audience will hear Roman Janál, Svatopluk Sem, Zdeněk Plech, František Zahradníček, Josef Moravec, Jaroslav Březina, Jiří Hájek and many others.

“The work as a whole is more than extraordinary: Orff´s musical language, the Czech translation of the German text, directorial concept and costumes and set design. I would send those, who have never been to the opera, to see exactly these Orff´s operas. You will be in a very positive state of shock that opera can be also witty, original and musically catchy even for inexperienced ears,” Olga Jelínková said.

The next opera premiere will be the video-opera Three Tales by contemporary American composer Steve Reich and by videoartist Beryl Korot. Its venue will be the New Stage of the National Theatre on Dec. 3, 2016.

National Theater Prague

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