Monday, April 30, 2012: Darkness and Light
The Spanish Hall in Prague Castle is one of the most opulent places in the Czech Republic, and likely the world. When Obama and Medvedev came to the Czech Republic to sign an historic missile treaty, this is the room they did it in.
Now and again it is opened to the public for performances, and it does not disappoint. Such was the case on Apr 25 when the Prague Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, with the Prague Philharmonic Choir, performed Antonín Dvořák’s The Spectre’s Bride a.k.a. The Wedding Shirts, Opus 69.
Decked out in white marble and gleaming gold, the Spanish Hall was initially brilliantly illuminated. But for the performance, the lights were dimmed, shrouding it in ominous shadows as a compliment to Karel Jaromir Erben’s creepy ballad about the undead which provided the inspiration for Dvořák’s music.
Indeed, the dichotomy between the darkness of a performance hall and the gleam of an exhibition room is a perfect fit for the story — a piece that blends the grasping hands of a zombie lover with the glory of the sacred.
The tale is about a maiden’s (Slovak soprano Maria Porubčinová) husband-to-be coming back from the dead (ominous baritone Ivan Kusnjer). Her love is almost enough to blind her to the wicked nature of the zombies she is being carried off to. But accompanied by a rousing chorus, she is able to call upon her faith and banish the monsters.
Tenor Ladislav Elgr provided a stirring performance as the voices of the singers not only resounded through the Hall, but their reflections in shadow were bounced off the mirrors on the left wall, a stark counterpoint to the dimming light of evening coming in through the windows to the right.
Night fell and the fervent climax was upon us. Bang! bang! bang! That was the sound of the maiden’s husband-to-be pounding on the doors of the mortuary chapel in a desperate attempt to get her out of that hiding place before dawn.
“Get up!” he calls to a dead man inside. “Push aside the bolt for me!”
But even at that darkest hour, the maiden prays for salvation. Forgiveness, one of the cornerstones of Christian belief, triumphs. In the end evil is punished and virtue rewarded. A blessing of light in a time of greatest darkness.
Although some of the medieval conventions are somewhat incomprehensible, the tale is classic and the music epic. Through it all, the singers, orchestra, and choir captured the correct essence of the piece in the interplay of light and dark, using it effectively both in song and in person in the incredible atmosphere of the Spanish Hall.
As we stepped out into the night following the concert to see the gleaming Gothic cathedral towering above us, be it with missile treaties or evil zombies, it seemed that humanity is forever celebrating the light in the darkness. — oo
– Hana and Frank Trollman
Photo Credits: Hana and Frank Trollman