Litomysl Festival fills Smetana's birthplace with the best of opera and classical music

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Smetana's Litomysl International Opera Festival is the largest open-air classical music festival in the Czech Republic. Eva Urbanova launches the traditional Smetana's Litomysl International Opera Festival on Friday; the popular Czech soprano is now celebrating twenty years of a most impressive career. Dita Asiedu takes a closer look at the important annual event:

Every year some 14,000 visitors flock to the festival from all around the country - as well as countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy - to the east Bohemian town of Litomysl, the birthplace of Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. Established in 1949, it is also one of the oldest Czech music festivals. The main venue will be the town's Renaissance Castle, which is close to the brewery where Bedrich Smetana was born on March 2, 1824. Artistic Director Vojtech Stritesky:

"This year, in cooperation with the National Theatre in Prague, we'll have the premier of Bedrich Smetana's The Kiss. Then we have Puccini's Manon Lescaut with renowned foreign soloists, there will also be a contemporary opera called The Touch of Christ - a spiritual opera by Slovak director Vitazoslav Kubicka. The concerts will include Richard Wagner's Ring without Words, while the closing concert on July 1 features the renowned young German tenor Torsten Kerl, who will sing pieces by Weber, Korngold, Bizet and Wagner."

This year's Smetana's Litomysl festival also has a subtitle: "In the world of Children". A concert by popular request will include tunes that children sing, whistle, or hum to themselves, often not knowing where the melodies are from. These may come from fairy tales, bedtime stories, but also films like Vinnetou and Harry Potter. The classical music part of the evening will feature "Carnival of the Animals" from the Grand Zoological Fantasy.

"Every year, we have an accompanying project to point to the roots of classical music. We show where it came from but also how far it can go. This year, we look at music played in villages... folklore... and we look back to the time when fiddlers travelled through long forgotten regions of Europe. We look at music that originated in places in the sub-Carpathian regions in Russia, Ukraine, and also visit Romania. The music will be presented by the Czaldy Waldy quartet - named after an old Bohemian dance of the 14th century and other groups will play music from Leos Janacek. We plan to continue with these projects as there is an extraordinary amount of interest in them."

The festival comes to an end on July 1. Since 95 percent of the performances are sold out every year, please visit the festival's official website: www.smetanovalitomysl.cz for more information on the ticket availability as well as the event in general.