Thursday, August 25, 2011: Live Onstage!

Love those hats! - A scene from the Baroque opera Endymio

Live and Onstage: Baroque Opera!

Fantasy and imagination come to the live stage every evening, now through October 3 at the Prague Baroque Festival. It’s even held in a romantic place, the Ledebour Garden below Prague Castle.

It’s a kind of dream come true for composer Tomáš Hanzlík. His desire was to produce and direct live Baroque theatre and opera. But almost no complete Baroque operas exist today in the Czech musical archives. Only the librettos – the texts – of a few opera seria (serious operas) survive.

So he commissioned composer Vít Zouhar to write new music to fit an old libretto. But not just new Baroque music – this music is a gentle blend of contemporary and Baroque music, which Mr Hanzlík labels neoBaroque minimalism.

And now four of the six operas in the Prague Baroque Festival are in this style.

‘New Baroque’ for a Contemporary Audience

What exactly is this style with the cumbersome name? Mr Hanzlík explains that neoBaroque minimalism doesn’t follow a strict Baroque style, but uses the Baroque only as inspiration.

The opera Yta Innocens

So each evening audiences are wowed with the production’s richly overdone, authentic costumes, make-up, and settings that can, for lack of a better word, only be termed baroque. But “Through our music, we’re trying to find a way to communicate with the audience,” Mr Hanzlík tells Opus Osm.

He and Mr Zouhar decided that this blending of styles was the only logical choice. “We want our music to be contemporary, because we have to live our lives in the present, not in the Baroque era,” he says.

However, today music is complicated. Although people in the Baroque era listened only to Baroque music, he says, “Nowadays we listen to the music from almost all the previous eras. And the music styles of the modern and post-modern era is so diverse and heterogeneous. Just consider the great differences in the various styles of the 20th century.”

But the composers realized they couldn’t opt for a completely contemporary style. “Avant-garde music repelled the audience from contemporary classical music concert halls. An audience of just a couple of people can’t be considered an audience,” he explains.

“It turns out that audiences enjoy a combination of minimalism and Baroque elements much more than traditional Baroque music played on authentic instruments.”

The opera’s stories center on tried-and-true, classical themes like love and revenge, and can be enjoyed simply for their lush theatricality or as metaphors for coping with life in the 21st century. The producers also took into consideration how we view time in the 21st century – each opera lasts only about an hour. – oo

– Marios Christou and Mary Matz

The NeoBaroque Minimalism Operas at the Festival:
Coronide, originally performed at the Kroměříž chateau, 1731. Music by Vít Zouhar, for the original libretto. Directed by Tomáš Hanzlík
Endymio, originally performed at Kroměříž, 1727; Torso, from fragments of Endymio; and Yta Innocens, Kroměříž, 1728. Music by Tomáš Hanzlík, for the original librettos. Directed by Mr Hanzlík.

You can see excerpts from The Prague Baroque Festival, and hear a bit of neoBaroque minimalism, by clicking on the festival’s video clip, below.

Photo Credits: (c) Martin Homola ABC Photo

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