Diamond Jubilee of eclectic "Smetana’s Litomyšl" international opera festival underway

An annual international opera festival celebrating the works of Bedřich Smetana – perhaps the most famous Czech composers of all time – kicks off on Thursday in the eastern Bohemian town of his birth. Now in its 60th year, the "Smetana’s Litomyšl" festival is a paradise for classical music lovers but also features everything from jazz to folk.

While "Smetana’s Litomyšl" mainly features opera performances, concerts, oratorios, cantatas and the like, there’s also a wide selection of symphonic, instrumental and chamber music. Not to mention ballet performances, church music and a range of other genres to suit practically all tastes, says festival director Jan Pikna.

"The programme is the most expansive in the history of the festival. For the Jubilee 60th anniversary, there’ll be 41 performances on the main stage alone, but there’s a rich accompanying programme including the cycle of art exhibitions ‘Smetana’s Creative Litomyšl’ and the Festival Gardens' program in the cloister grounds by the chateau. So … It’ll be a huge marathon."

Among the main events outside the classical music realm is the Jazz Ride, a non-stop Czechoslovak hot jam session, which in the courtyard of the magnificent State Chateau Litomyšl, a Unesco World Heritage List site that is worth exploring in its own right.

Foreign guests include the Japanese virtuoso Kotaro Fukuma, who will give a piano recital with works by Smetana, of course, but also by Claude Debussy, the late great French composer, who also features in a performance by the visiting Tonkünstler Orchestra from Vienna.

In memory of Jiří Bělohlávek, a leading interpreter of Czech classical music, who at various times was chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, there will also be the premiere of a television opera on the theme of Tolstoy’s tale "The Old Shoemaker".

Jiří Bělohlávek, photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech RadioJiří Bělohlávek, photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio The soundtrack of that film, called "Bohuslav Martinů: What Men Live By", is subtitled in English and features the very first record of this composition by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bělohlávek in 2014.

The first Smetana’s Litomyšl festival took place in 1949 on the 125th anniversary of the composer’s Smetana’s birth. Over time, it has grown from an event lasting at most a few days to one taking place over three weeks. The grande finale on the 7th of July, a Saturday, is billed as being "full of surprises".

Artistic director Vojtěch Stříteský says he has prepared an evening of both musical discoveries and perennials, for all "unprejudiced" lovers of good music.