Salvage of Cultural Heritage project continues

06-12-2002

A tragic comedy by the young Czech film director Vladimir Michalek called 'Indian Summer' received a significant award at the 11th International film festival in Saint Louis in the United States last week. In a tough competition of altogether 56 films from the whole world, Indian Summer received the spectators' award for the best feature film. Based on a screenplay by Jiri Hubac, the film was made in co-production of the BUC and BKP film companies and Czech Television. Czech TV will present the film as part of its Christmas schedule on December 26th. A story of a 75 year old pensioner who refuses to resign from a happy life just because of his age and tries to make the best of it, it was already highly successful in the United States at the beginning of this year: at a prestigious film festival in Palm Springs spectators placed it among the best 10 films screened, and it was also awarded the main prize at the 26th International film festival in Cleveland earlier this year. The actors in the roles of three main characters, Vlastimil Brodsky, Stella Zazvorkova and Stanislav Zindulka won the Czech Lion 2001 Prize for best actors, awarded annually by the Czech film Academy to the best Czech films of the year.

The "Salvage of Cultural Heritage" is a project whose main objective is to seek and preserve significant works by our famous predecessors which are important for our time as well as for future generations. The project includes some of the original scores by great Czech composers from the 19th century, but also the renovation of other cultural sites, such as Charles Bridge in Prague, the Baroque theatre in Cesky Krumlov or the house where Gustav Mahler was born at Kaliste near Humpolec.

In the year 2002, the Salvage of Cultural Heritage project entered its 3rd stage, which involves the saving of a priceless score of perhaps the most famous Czech opera, 'The Bartered Bride' by Bedrich Smetana. Smetana finished the opera in 1866 and he himself conducted its premiere in the Prozatimni Theatre in Prague in May of the same year. In October, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I visited one performance and in 1882, the 100th performance of the Bartered Bride was staged, which was a unique event in the history of opera as a genre. The 1000th performance was staged in the year 1927, and ever since, Smetana's Bertered Bride has been touring stages not only in this country, but around the world. Its most important performances took place in Vienna - in 1892, Chicago in 1893, New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1909, London's Covent Gargen in 1931, and also in Milan's La Scala, in Australia, Japan, China, Rhodesia and elsewhere.

In the year 2000, the original score of other music gem by Smetana, the cycle of symphonic poems My Country was renewed, and in the second stage of the project it was the 9th symphony 'From the New World' by Antonin Dvorak which was completely renovated.

Recently, the score of the Bartered Bride was saved from destruction, and I asked Dr. Olga Mojzisova from the Bedrich Smetana Museum in Prague to what extent the score was damaged:

" The score is damaged on the one hand so to speak 'invisibly', that is from the chemical point of view. The acidity of the paper has made it fragile, the paper is getting thinner and there is a danger it might be easily torn into pieces. Then there have been certain corrosive influences, for instance due to the composition of the ink with which the score was written. And naturally, then there is mechanical damage, torn sheets with some small parts missing and broken hard covers."

The score of the Bartered Bride, the first Czech opera that was printed, was threatened severely, and it has been restored thanks to the international music festival PONTES, the Museum of Czech Music in Prague and the project's general sponsor, the Leciva pharmaceutical company. Dr. Mojzisova told me more about the genesis of the Bartered Bride:

"Smetana finished the opera in 1866, but it was in no way an easy job. Smetana kept on adding more and more scenes to the original form, in singing, acting and dancing; he used to change their order, so that the original two-act opera became a three-act one, then he changed spoken word parts to recitatives which connected individual arias, so the definite version of the Bartered Bride was not finished until 1870."

The score in Smetana's time served for conducting the piece, but for performances in numerous theatres copies were made. Then it served as a pattern for printing the score. Over those past thirteen decades it also was a subject of musicologists' research, and very often it was exhibited at all kinds of exhibitions and presentations. I wondered what will happen to the score now?

"Since a certain time, the original manuscript has been preserved in a safe and used only on exceptional occasions. We try to persuade musicologists doing research to work with the printed copies of the opera, dci or - if they need to look at the original manuscripts - to use microfilms, photocopies and so on. In very exceptional cases, when there's no other choice we allow them to look at it on the spot."

Dr. Mojzisova told me that she'd like to see the Salvation of Cultural Heritage project include the digitalization of the renovated manuscripts, but says it's a matter of money, that's why the process is so long. So far, three other operas by Bedrich Smetana have been digitized, and if there's enough funds, the Bartered Bride will be next. In the year 2003, the project is to continue with the restoration of Antonin Dvorak's opera 'Rusalka'.

Pictures and personal belongings of the niece of famous Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, the artist Thea Weltnerova, which had been donated to the Moravian town of Jihlava, are still in depositaries. Because of customs declaration problems, Jihlava has no right to do anything with the precious objects. Thea Welterova was born in Jihlava, but left Czechoslovakia in 1935, and died last year in Switzerland at the age of 84. She bequeathed part of her life-long work - which includes pictures, drawings and several objects of personal use - to her native town, but an amendment to the customs law complicated its declaration, as well as calculation of its value. The objects are stored in a secure place and protected against possible damage, and the Jihlava town hall is prepared to exhibit them in the newly renovated Gustav Mahler house in the town as soon as the customs problems have been resolved.

06-12-2002