National Theatre to produce new opera featuring Nagano golden victory

28-03-2003

The National Theatre, next to the National Museum, is the biggest and most famous cultural institution in the Czech Republic and a trip to Prague would not be complete without an opera, ballet or theatre performance as good quality entertainment is guaranteed. But to offer some variety to its visitors, the National Theatre has decided to turn to something more contemporary and feature an opera based on a sport that is close to many Czechs' hearts - ice hockey.

With the help of the well established Czech composer Martin Smolka, Czech actor Jaroslav Dusek, conductor Jan Chalupecky, stage director Ondrej Havelka, and set designer Borek Sipek, "Nagano, the Birth of a Legend" is to be premiered next year. For those of you who may still be in the dark regarding the opera's story line - it's the golden victory of the Czech Ice Hockey team at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. Dita Asiedu spoke to Jiri Nekvasil, the opera director of the National Theatre, to find out how the idea came about and what visitors can expect to see next year:

"We wanted to offer new operas and discuss interesting themes, ideas, and stories for contemporary opera. I first discussed it with Jaroslav Dusek the co-author of the libretto. Ice hockey and the story of the victory at the Olympic Games in Nagano is like new mythology and a lot of operas from the past are also based on mythologies. So we not only found the story to be a new mythology but also a sport of a high level with a big stylisation of motion. The opera is also associated with energy as you have marches, a big orchestra, singers. So, it's about the similarity between a good opera performance and a good sports match as it's about the interaction of energies. The beginning of the sport is the game and the theatre is also a game. Another thing is that it is something new to make ice hockey an opera as a new mythology and bring everything an opera has. There is the stylisation and also some humour. It is not a parody, though, but it's about bringing the energy of the sport into a musical picture. We say that this piece is a theatre music poem about ice hockey."

When I try to imagine an opera about the Olympic Games in Nagano I come up with neither a tune nor a story line. How far have you got with preparations so far?

"It's important to note that regarding an opera about ice hockey, one can imagine anything. We started with an idea and then thought of a way of bringing it to the artificial picture. We spoke with Jaroslav Dusek and the composer Martin Smolka about the possibilities of performing it on stage. The opera will be in three thirds and extra time. The first third is the preparation of the matches. The second part is the more important matches but in big stylisation and the third part is the return to the Czech Republic and an interesting dream passage. We are taking some real ideas and points and are putting them in the artificial picture. One of our main inspirations is Milan Hnilicka who was the third goal-keeper who did not get to play in the Olympic Games. His parents sat at home and watched him on television. We were also inspired by the main goal-keeper and hero of the games, Dominik Hasek, as well as the captain of the team Vladimir Ruzicka, or player Jaromir Jagr and coach Ivan Hlinka. They play in Canada, the US, and Russia. But you must imagine that it's not a film, it's not realistic, but simply an inspiration for the theatre stage. There is also this dream passage that I spoke about. Here, we see the former Czech president Vaclav Havel. The set and costume designer is also the former castle architect Borek Sipek. Dominik Hasek also has a crazy meeting with the writer Jaroslav Hasek and his famous literature character Svejk on stage. But it also has some real events such as when the ice hockey team returned to Prague and met with Vaclav Havel, Mr Havel asked Dominik Hasek whether he would like to be the future president."

I'm looking forward to it already. When the Czech ice hockey team returned from Nagano, some 100,000 Czechs came to the Old Town Square to welcome them, so it's quite clear that they are popular and the opera will be popular among Czechs. I imagine that it will be just as popular among tourists since it's a unique idea. Have you thought of what language the opera should be in?

"It will be in Czech but we also work with expressions and mainly motion and choreography. But Dominik Hasek, for example, will also sing in Latin."

Speaking about Dominik Hasek, has there been any reaction from any of the members of the Czech ice hockey team?

"I am still waiting for a reaction but I must stress that it will not be a true story of these people but they will serve as an inspiration for the artistry. But I hope they will be new Czech heroes and that they will be satisfied. I think the opera will be fun. The Olympic Games brought one of the best big national euphoria for five years and that's how it became a new mythology and a reason to produce an opera."

When and where will it be premiered?

"The world premier will be on April 8 2004 at the Estates Theatre in Prague - the same theatre in which the world premier of Don Giovanni was held - and we are planning the performances in the spring of 2004 and probably also in the 2004/2005 season."

28-03-2003