A scandal at the opera

Опера Бедржиха Сметаны «Проданная невеста» (Фото: www.narodni-divadlo.cz)

On Friday the National Theatre in Prague hosted the premiere of a new production of probably the best known Czech opera, The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana. But what was meant to be a prestigious staging met with disapproval on the part of the audience and the actors were even booed at one point.

Although The Bartered Bride mocks some of the less attractive traits of the Czech national character, it is treasured here like the family silver. The 19th century comic opera has been staged so many times in this country that each new director desperately tries to find new ways to approach it. Amid growing unease among the audience on Friday caused by some novelty elements in the production came the final blow.

In the scene where the travelling circus comes to town and the character of Vasek appears in the costume of the dancing bear, one of the actors unfurled and brandished an American flag. At that point the grumbling on the circles turned to loud booing and whistling.

The head of the National Theatre and author of the production's stage design, Daniel Dvorak, said the flag appeared by mistake, causing unwanted political overtones. He said he had a special stylised flag made for the performance that was only supposed to symbolise Vasek's "dream of America" but somehow the two flags got swapped before the premiere. Mr Dvorak said it won't happen again but he described the audience's reaction as overemotional.

Although some booing could still be heard during the final applause, overall the production which - according to its director Jiri Nekvasil - highlights the humour of the opera and rejects a historical or patriotic interpretation, went down quite well, with especially loud applause for the conductor Oliver Dohnanyi.