Pounding on the Iron Curtain

01-11-2002

Prague's Stavovske Divadlo, or Estate Theatre, was host to an unusual performance recently that is part of the Pounding on the Iron Curtain project. This project, which was launched in the State Opera Prague last season and is now to be continued in the Estate Theatre, aims at giving the new generation of talented composers a new taste for opera and a chance to perform their work before a large audience. The first such performance was the world premier of "Priceless Arias", supported by the Guarded Parnass grouping that promotes contemporary art in the country.

The performance was in two parts. One was a spiritual séance by masters Edward Kelly and John Dee that was held to a composition by German musician Hans W. Koch in an adaptation by Zdenek Plachy. This was an avant-garde performance that contemporary theatre lovers could identify with. The other, longer part, however, was far beyond the classic avant-garde performance, as German musician, Hans Koch explains:

"The evening is an evening of opera karaoke, which is originating in the Strezeny Parnass idea of guarding the high art values. So it's lifting up entertainment art to a high art. What people will see on stage is a kind of business company party with the production of this opera aria karaoke and there will be a stage show with moderators and as it is a common custom in Japan to contact the spirits of the companies before signing a contract, there will also be businessmen from Japan to get this presentation of this karaoke party. There is a spiritual part, where the spiritual ancestors of this company will be contacted, which also goes back into Prague history where it was in the 16th century when a man from England moved to Prague to the court of Rudolph the Emperor because Rudolph was an alchemist trying to make gold and this man from England had contacted some angels, which had dictated to him in an angelic language to go to Rudolph and tell him that he can make gold."

"My name is Chiu Chun-Chiang and I am the conductor during the karaoke party. Actually, I will follow the electronic music because karaoke is electronic music and the people will sing with this machine. Since they use very famous arias from the opera, the tempo is not the same as usual and therefore it will be very difficult for the singers and that is why they need the cue of the conductor. I show them how to sing with the machines and I never decide whether I will act as a crazy, a good, or a very bad conductor."

Although Mr Chiu Chun-Chiang acted as a good conductor and the opera singers mastered the karaoke performance successfully, there were some in the audience who did not view this as a lower form of entertainment brought to a higher level but rather a mockery and disrespectful misuse of the opera. In other words, some loved it and others hated it:

Now, you saw the performance. What did you think of it?

"I loved it. When I came, I knew that it was going to be unusual so I was not expecting the classic type of performance. What I liked the most was not really happening on stage but in the audience instead. People were leaving because they were expecting something different and more classic. They were shocked. But I think we need to have a little more understanding for this kind of work."

What about you? You look a little sceptical...

"I like the idea - Pounding on the Iron Curtain - but this performance was a little too avant-garde for me. The young and talented don't really have the chance to be seen or heard. I don't really think it was something that needs talent."

The next performance that will be part of the Pounding on the Iron Curtain project can be viewed at the Estate Theatre on November 10th and will feature Marketa Dvorakova's "Giraffe Opera" and Karel Skarka's world premier of "Don Juan in Hell". Although both are to be avant-garde performances, tickets are already in hot demand and the theatre is expected to be sold out, which goes to show that the Czech audience has developed a taste for the new and innovative.

01-11-2002