Libuše - Bedřich Smetana’s opera about Bohemia’s mythical female ruler


Bedřich Smetana wrote Libuše, one of his most famous opera’s, as a ceremonial work, intended only for special occasions.

It was originally assumed that Libuše would be a coronation opera, but the coronation of Austrian emperor Franz Josef I as king of Bohemia never took place. The premiere of the Libuše opera ended up taking place at the grand opening of the National Theater in Prague on June 11, 1881. Libuše was also performed at the reopening of the theatre after the first building was destroyed by a fire. The opera was also played during the declaration of independence of Czechoslovakia.

Bedřich Smetana | Photo: public domain

Despite several of its parts being known to most Czechs, Libuše is actually played relatively little on Czech opera stages and almost never internationally. There are several reasons for this. For example, the composer himself did not want this opera to be part of the regular repertoire of theatres. Staging Libuše can also be quite difficult for set designers. The opera is very static and does not feature a dramatic story. It is a so-called tableau – a compilation of three vivid images from the life of the mythical Bohemian Princess Libuše.

The acts on the stage are accompanied by joyful, festive music, but Libuše's arias also contain tender passages. The princess is described not only as a ruler, but also a loving woman. The best Czech sopranos, such as Ema Destinnová, Marie Podvalová, Naděžda Kniplová, Gabriela Beňačková and Eva Urbanová, gradually excelled in this role.

The culmination of the opera is the third image – the prophecy of Libuše. The princess is not only a legendary ruler, foretelling the glory of the Czechs, but most importantly a mythical symbol of womanhood and motherhood, meekness and peaceful life. The whole opera chants neither of heroism or militancy. On the contrary, it emphasizes the ideal of kindness, modesty, wisdom and harmony among the members of one nation. The opera culminates in the final choral singing "The Czech nation will not fall!"