No Man looks at Stalin's sculpture

A modern music drama takes on the sculpture and its absence

A new music drama in three acts focuses on the tragic fate of the sculptor Otakar Švec and his final work – the stone statue of Joseph Stalin that in the 1950s towered above Prague at Letná Park. No Man is at the New Stage (Nová scéna), with shows scheduled in April and May.

The production, which combines opera and art installation, is described as a stage Gesamtkunstwerk, or “universal artwork,” that is somewhere in between utopia and dystopia. The music, composed by Jiří Kadeřábek, employs soloists and a chamber ensemble, recorded children’s choir, mixed choir and orchestra. The libretto is by Katharina Schmitt and Lukáš Jiřička.

The musical concept is based on integrating absent performers and stage action, with this contrast creating an analogy to the current absence of the Stalin monument. “The drama partially draws upon authentic historical and archival material, blending with an epic reflection on the human yearning for creating a work that surpasses the person. The production creators approach the image of the removal of the Stalin monument in 1962 as a response to the political changes in the Soviet Union and a backlash against the cult of personality,” a National Theatre press release states.

The Stalin monument was erected in 1955 and destroyed in 1962, and was the largest Stalin monument in the world. The monument took so long to build, that by the time it was unveiled the Soviet leader was already falling into disfavor. By 1962, the government decided it had to be removed and at the same time forbid people from photographing the destruction.

The engineer who was supposed to demolish the monument was supposed to devise a silent explosion so it would disappear without drawing any attention to the event. The silent explosion is the peek of the second part of No Man. “As the Stalin sculpture blows up, so does the classical structure of the opera No Man: passing from the classical form to an open structure,” the National Theatre states.

“Following the silent explosion, all that is heard in the second part is the bustle of the theater in operation – the sounds emitted by the props, technology and spectators – and silence. The silent explosion is ensued by the appearance of the phantoms that have remained in the wake of the demolition of the Stalin monument in the collective consciousness of Praguers,” the National Theater states.

Sculptor Otakar Švec committed suicide a day before the Stalin sculpture was unveiled. He was a pupil of Josef Václav Myslbek and Jan Štursa. Švec's early work includes the 1924 Futurist sculpture Sunbeam Motorcycle, which is now in the National Gallery in Prague. He also made public monuments to Czechoslovak President Tomáš Masaryk, religious reformer Jan Hus, and US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Masaryk and Hus monuments were destroyed by the Germans during World War II.

Švec entered a competition to build the Stalin monument in 1949, but did not expect to win. The statue was made of stone and had a line of workers, scientists and soldiers behind Stalin. People colloquially called the statue as the “line for meat,” referring to the constant food shortages. It was brought down in October 1962 with 800 kilograms of dynamite.

Composer Jiří Kadeřábek has been praised by the New York Times, New York Arts and the BBC. He applies computer assisted composition techniques and integrates historical as well as jazz, pop and rock music.

His pieces contain political or social accents along with a personal message. His creative development was affected by the folk tradition of eastern Moravia, where he was born in 1978. In 2012 he received a PhD in composition at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He also spent a year at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague and another year as a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University in New York.

For tickets please visit www.narodni-divadlo.cz

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