Culture Ministry looking at new concepts for Prague’s classic stages

The Estates Theatre, photo: CzechTourism

The Ministry of Culture is devising a new conceptual plan for Prague’s premier, state-run theatres. A group of experts has been put together to consider various alternatives for the better use of buildings like the Estates Theatre, the National Theatre and the Prague State Opera. Though only in the initial stages, critics were very quick to latch on to suggestions made in the first of several plans under consideration, raising a question mark over how easy it will be to reform the beloved and traditional, but economically ineffective venues.

The Prague State Opera
Out of somewhere came the suggestion that the Ministry of Culture would be banning drama in the Estates, Prague’s oldest operational theatre, and the critics were off and running. That was not the idea, as Culture Minister Jiří Besser spent much of his time of late explaining. But bold transformations are not off the table either. The first concept the ministry is looking at does make an ostentatious proposal to turn the old town theatre where Mozart premiered some of his most lasting work into a centre for its promotion. At least one commentator grumbled that such a suggestion amounts to saying Czech speaking actors get in the way of paying Germans and Japanese who can’t understand them. But as Minister Besser himself told Radio Prague on Wednesday, no one should jump to conclusions.

Jiří Besser
“One, only one of the concepts considers the creation of a Mozart centre. We are only at the beginning of a discussion that will not take years, but should be known as soon as possible. I am opposed to ending drama in the Estates Theatre. These are various separate ideas from which we are going to create a clearly structured concept that will say what, where and when, but that at the same time will be flexible. There are presently four comprehensive proposals, but we will also be collecting all relevant information from the public and from employees.”

Dr Besser was adamant that there were no specific changes to the Estates Theatre, the National Theatre or the Prague State Opera that had been decided on already, aside from what he called the obvious fact that things have to change in general. According to the minister, the reason behind that involves both economics and the quality of the performances, and the specific problem of opera, with the state financing two operatic and two ballet productions in two different theatres. Meanwhile, the Prague State Opera building is the only venue in the country fully capable of hosting large-scale opera and ballet productions, but is facing economic collapse. The minister says there is no thought of the state giving up on the opera, or the other venues.

The Estates Theatre,  photo: CzechTourism
“Most importantly, these proposals do not mean that state wants to abandon its custodianship of the Prague State Opera, nor is there any thought whatsoever of turning any of these buildings into private businesses, or even turning them over to the City of Prague. Those are the fundamental conditions of the proposals.”

Other aspects of the first proposal include using the National Theatre primarily for large-scale traditional drama, for state and ceremonial events, and for less technologically demanding performances, such as “master interpretations” of the great Czech composers.