Smetana's Litomysl opens for 45th time


On Friday, Smetana's Litomysl International Opera Festival opens for the 45th time. In its history, it has attracted thousands of visitors every year who have flocked to the little Bohemian town of Litomysl - the birthplace of composer Bedrich Smetana - to enjoy the best of Czech classical music, performed by international artists. I spoke to artistic director Vojtech Stritesky to find out what this year's festival has to offer:

We have prepared twenty shows for our visitors, and of course there are highlights and long expected projects such as the final performance of Eva Urbanova and Fabio Armiliato. It will be one of the sold out performances, as well as the recital of the great tenor Sergei Larin, who will perform on June 23 with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, under the conduction of Leos Svarovsky. Another exceptional project will be Berlioz's Requiem performed on the 200th anniversary of his birthday. There will be 280 performers and it will certainly be a great artistic experience. And of course there will be Smetana's Two Widows presented by an opera from Ostrava, and Janacek's Jenufa performed by Prague Opera.

Sergei Larin performs in San Diego and San Francisco, in London's Covent Garden, in New York's Metropolitan Opera, and he is coming to Litomysl from the Berlin State Opera. He is one of the most booked tenors, just as his counterpart Fabio Armiliato who will perform on July 5 with Eva Urbanova. I heard him in the State Opera in Vienna in Turandot. He is quite young and will definitely enjoy a bright career. I haven't mentioned yet that there is also an excellent French tenor Fabrice Dalis who will sing a solo on Wednesday, June 25 in Hector Berlioz's Requiem.

Despite the festival bearing the name "opera festival", there are only four operas among the twenty events on show this year. The festival's organizers have therefore been criticized many times in the past for failing to offer more of Bedrich Smetana's operas. But Mr Stritesky rejects these claims:

Smetanova Litomysl was founded more than fifty years ago in 1949, and it has always been an opera festival. Sometimes it is a national opera festival, at other times it is international, and that's how it alternates. Everybody is trying to keep on his own level, and tries to represent it in a certain way. We succeed every year to introduce, as the backbone of every programme, a series of performances that are operas, or have to do with opera, or originate in opera. The festival should also be called an opera festival this year because its four main projects are Jenufa, Two Widows, Sergei Larin's recital, and a concert of Fabio Armiliato and Eva Urbanova.

According to Mr Stritesky, it is complicated to stage operas because, as far as the production is concerned, they are arranged with new elements and use new techniques. The festival only has a classic, old theatre at its disposal which does not have its own technology and lighting. Everything has to be brought to it and then be set up. That is why the festival is limited in the selection of new operas, especially since it needs a day or two to put up the set and carry out scenic, acoustic, and light rehearsals.

Mr Stritesky furthermore points out that it is difficult to choose an opera as one can not be guaranteed that it will be a good performance. But, he says, it is only critics who complain. The festival has always enjoyed much popularity, proven by the large amount of visitors who come to Litomysl from all over the world:

"We are not a festival that is aimed at tourists who come to Litomysl by pure chance. There are many specialized tourist agencies who arrange trips to Litomysl from Vienna in Austria and Regensburg in Germany. Most tourists are from Germany and Austria but there are also Italians, Danes, and Dutch tourists. Once we made a survey, and we realized that there are also tourists from Australia, America, from all over the world."