For more than 90 years, the Slovak National Theatre Opera has been the training ground for renowned opera soloists such as Edita Gruberova and Sergej Kopcak.
The Bratislava opera performs in two venues. The smaller is the aptly named historical building (historická budova), located in the heart of the old town. It was designed in Neo-Renaissance style by Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner, and opened in 1886. It was also the site of negotiations involving Václav Havel and Alexander DubÄŤek after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
With just over 600 seats, the setting is intimate and elegant. Locals frequently arrive in dress suits or gowns, and champagne is served during intermissions. English and German are widely spoken, and programmes are almost always available in both languages. It’s best to avoid tiffs with the sometimes surly ushers by checking your coat and using small change when buying refreshments and programmes.
The larger venue is the new building (nová budova), located behind the Eurovea development, near the river. Spacious enough to house three separate stages, it opened with much fanfare in April 2007 after more than 20 years of construction. Perhaps because the building lacks history, the atmosphere is noticeably more casual than at its sister site, despite marble floors, velvet carpets, and hallway displays of costumes from memorable productions.
Many Slovak opera soloists perform regularly at La Scala in Milan and New York's Metropolitan Opera. Mezzo-soprano Jitka Sapara-Fischerova is brilliant in “Carmen” and “Aida”; baritone Dalibor Jenis is chilling as Don Giovanni; and coloratura soprano Ä˝ubica Vargicová shines in “La Fille du Regiment.” The opera also has a number of compelling tenors, including Peter Berger, Jozef Kundlak, Ludovit Ludha, and Michal Lehotsky.
The overall quality of productions is uneven. German director Peter Konwitschny’s daring interpretation of “Eugen Onegin” literally breaks down barriers at the historical building and local director Jozef Bednarik’s penchant for glamour works well in “Turandot” at the new building. But in Pavol Smolik’s production of “Martin a Slnko,” a 20th century children’s opera, characters inexplicably take to rolling life-sized euro coins across the stage. The opera chorus can sound lethargic at times.
But the singers’ pride is palpable when they perform the works of homegrown composers, such as Suchon’s “Krutnava” or Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride”. Such earnestness is thoroughly enjoyable to watch.
This lack of pretence extends to the audience, which rarely hurls lusty boos - except when a director dares to fiddle with Dvorak a and encourages local favourites with standing ovations.
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