foto (c) Petra Hajská

“When talent, passion, and thorough preparation come together, the result is an unforgettable artistic experience that transcends the boundaries of space and time.”

This is how Veronika Vojčáková, a reviewer from the online portal OperaPlus.cz, described the concert of the Famous Opera Choruses, which took place on April 21, 2024, at the Spanish Hall. You can read the full review of this exceptional evening, organised by the Prague Philharmonic Choir, below.

Famous Opera Choruses in the Spanish Hall: A worthy celebration of the Year of Czech Music

VERONIKA VOJČÁKOVÁ, 24.04.2024 9:00

On the evening of 21 April 2024 the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle was transformed into a sanctuary of music where the Prague Philharmonic Choir, conducted by Lukáš Vasilek, demonstrated that the tradition of Czech opera is alive and vibrant. The concert entitled “Famous Opera Choruses” brought the audience an unforgettable experience which was not just a tribute to the giants of Czech music, but also a celebration of choral art that is so deeply rooted in our country. The concert was organised as part of the Year of Czech Music 2024, that is why the programme contained the compositions of Czech composers being celebrated including the most famous – Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček and Bohuslav Martinů. Lukáš Vasilek, who staged the concert, selected the most popular compositions (not just) for choirs as he also incorporated several arias performed by the Ostrava soprano and soloist of the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre, Veronika Rovná, and the master bass soloist at the National Theatre in Prague, Pavel Švingr.

The evening opened with The Miracle of Our Lady by Bohuslav Martinů placing emphasis on folk poetry, and blended with modern harmonies and rhythmic vitality. The concert began with The Prelude to The Nativity of Our Lord, which was like a gentle entry into the world of old legends and myths. This composition smoothly transitioned into a joyous Hallelujah performed by the female part of the Prague Philharmonic Choir. The song from the play: Sister Pasqualina: And Outside Paradise performed by Veronica Rovná brought the audience moments of deep spiritual reflection. The well-known Moravian ballad The Bells are Ringing for Mass, where the male and female choir passages alternate with the solo soprano, closed this introductory cycle in the “Erben” spirit – a harsh punishment for a minor offence. In this composition, as throughout the concert, the choirmaster and conductor in the one person of Lukáš Vasilek showed that he could tame the orchestra to act as a great accompaniment for the singers giving them space for their voices to fully shine out, whereas in the finale he graduated the orchestra’s sound to a dramatic fortissimo.

This was followed by Leoš Janaček’s Jenůfa where the dramatic nature of the work was combined with a flavour of authentic folklore, and the audience could appreciate how skilfully Janáček transformed folk motifs into operatic form. The prelude to the third act performed by the Prague Philharmonia was full of tension and expectation. The energetic Far and wide, where the attractive refrains of the male choir worked as the counterpart to the solo soprano aria and prayer Where am I & Hail Mary, together with the dialogue between the mother and daughter Hey mum performed by the female choir, demonstrated Janáček’s ability to express deep human emotions through music.

The highlight of the first half of the programme was a selection from Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka. The Polonaise resounded at the concert just as Dvořák would have originally wished – without the audience being distracted by a ballet. The bass Pavel Švingr in the role of the Water Sprite in the aria Alas, Oh Pitiful, Pallid Rusalka was able to portray the concerns of fatherly love with incredible sensitivity and dynamism which, next to romantic love, is the second focal point of this opera, and, at least in our part of the world, is one of the most famous opera arias ever. The wedding song White blooms all along the road closed the first half of the concert.

The second half of the evening belonged to Bedřich Smetana and his opera choruses and arias. The Bartered Bride Polka resounded through the hall with joy and country gaiety. The Night Is So Still from The Brandenburgers in Bohemia performed by the male part of the Prague Philharmonic Choir brought peace and tranquillity with a premonition of dramatic twists like the calm before the storm. A White Dove Was Flying from The Kiss and Beautiful Rye from The Secret recalled the richness of the Czech countryside. Beautiful Morning from The Two Widows and Oh What Grief from The Bartered Bride showed Smetana’s ability to express the wide range of emotions, while And the Most Cheerful Thing Is This World from Dalibor and the popular Let Us Rejoice, Let’s Be Merry from The Bartered Bride brought a triumphal conclusion to the evening.

As part of the project Year of Czech Music 2024 and under the patronage of Eva Pavlová, wife of the president of the Czech Republic, Petr Pavel, the concert became not just a tribute to the past, but also an inspiration for future generations of musicians and audiences. The performance of soloists Veronika Rovná and Pavel Švingr, and the members of the Prague Philharmonic Choir and Prague Philharmonia was proof that when talent, passion and thorough preparation come together, the outcome is an unforgettable artistic experience that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The presenter for the evening, Marek Eben, added another dimension to the overall atmosphere with his witty and informative comments.

The whole event was not just a musical, but also a visual experience, thanks to the brilliant lighting of the magnificent Spanish Hall with its rich history and beautiful decoration which provided a perfect background to this musical feast.

This concert was a worthy feast of Czech music and its echoes will continue to resound in the hearts of the audience for a long time after its end. The live broadcast of Czech television on its ČT art channel allows the entire nation to share this unique experience and I recommend watching the recorded version.

“The Famous Opera Choruses concert was an extraordinary experience and will certainly be one of the highlights of the Year of Czech Music.”

On Sunday, April 21, the Famous Opera Choruses concert took place in the Spanish Hall, which was broadcast live by Czech Television on the ČT art channel. The viewership reached 147 thousand viewers. The Prague Philharmonic Choir, led by its principal choirmaster and also the conductor of the entire concert, Lukáš Vasilek, convinced everyone in the hall and in front of the television screens that it mastered, among other things, “…the art of delicate dynamic shading, sound plasticity, and exemplary articulation of the text,” as Radmila Hrdinová writes in her review on the Novinky.cz portal. You can read the text below.

A choral tribute to Czech music resounded through the Spanish Hall

Radmila Hrdinová

22 April, 16:09
A concert of the Prague Philharmonic Choir and the Prague Philharmonia (formerly PKF – Prague Philharmonia) entitled “Famous Opera Choruses” was held in the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle on Sunday. In the spirit of the Year of Czech Music 2024, the programme focused on the works of Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček and Bohuslav Martinů. The concert was broadcast live by Czech Television on its ČT ART channel. The concert was held under the patronage of Eva Pavlová, the wife of the president of the Czech Republic.

The concert was staged and conducted by the conductor, principal choirmaster and art director of the Prague Philharmonic Choir, Lukáš Vasilek, under whose direction our leading choral ensemble has reached a peak level of interpretation in the last few decades. He also deserves credit for the wonderful selection of dramatic composition.

The introduction resounded with a selection of choral and solo pieces from Martinů’s “The Miracle of Our Lady”, then from Leoš Janáček’s “Jenůfa” and the first part was brought to an end with three excerpts from Dvořák’s “Rusalka”.

After the interval, the programme was devoted entirely to Bedřich Smetana when both ensembles and the soloists celebrated six out of his eight completed operas.

The seventy-member choir demonstrated its artistry in precisely structured and expressively well-differentiated pitches. The pure intonation and perfect singing was its main strength so it also demonstrated the artistry of fine dynamic tones, sound structure and exemplary text articulation.

The male part of the choir thrilled the audience with a sensitive performance of the wonderful chorus “The Night Is So Still” from Smetana’s “The Brandenburgers in Bohemia” and the temperamental ditty “And the Most Cheerful Thing Is this World” from “Dalibor”.

The women were immediately enthralled in the first entry of the Halellujah from the second part of Martinů’s “The Miracle of Our Lady”, by the hushed delivery of the chorus “Hey mum” from Janáček’s “Jenůfa” and the gentle lullaby “A White Dove Was Flying” from “The Kiss” in the less known, but impressive choral arrangement of Smetana’s contemporary Ferdinand Heller.
And, among others, the ensemble shined out together in Dvořák’s chorus ‘White blooms all along the road’ or in the closing number “Let us Rejoice, Let’s Be Merry” from “The Bartered Bride”.

The concert soloists were soprano Veronika Rovná, whose perfect delivery resounded in Jenůfa’s prayer or Mařenka’s aria “That dream of love”, and bass Pavel Švingr, with his particularly pleasing sound and expressively precise delivery of the Water Sprite’s aria from Dvořák’s “Rusalka”.
The Prague Philharmonia also got its opportunity to demonstrate its playing skills in several orchestral pieces. Marek Eben provided an amusing and musically erudite commentary of the concert programme.

Choral art forms part of the treasury of Czech music and only few nations have such a rich legacy of choral work. The “Famous Opera Choruses” concert was proof of this and an extraordinary experience, and will certainly rank among the highlights of the events of the Year of Czech Music.

The Prague Philharmonic Choir is returning to Czech opera music and Prague Castle where it will appear in the concert performance of Smetana’s “Libuše” conducted by Jakub Hrůša.

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