Six Costumes of a Diva


Jarmila Novotná costumed as Violetta in ‘La Traviata.’ This costume and others from the soprano’s glittering career are on display now at The Municipal House.

An element of the sparkling Czech soprano Jarmila Novotná (1907-1994) returns to the respected Prague concert venue, The Municipal House, where this diva sang after WWII. Six of her costumes are on exhibit here through Jan 4.

It’s due to the effort of the non-profit Association of Chateau Liteň in central Bohemia, where this star lived with her life partner, the intellectual, aristocrat, and businessman Jiří Daubek.

The Liteň organization is working to recall the legacy of this notable personality and to revitalize their home in Liteň as a cultural center.

A glamourous soprano that charmed not only audiences around Europe and America (as a Metropolitan Opera soloist, 1935-1956), Jarmila Novotná also charmed four remarkable men.

It was the first president of the Czechoslovak Republic Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) who supported this promising singer in her studies in Milan.

He saw in her a perfect representative of the Czechoslovak culture, and his dream came true. Even though Jarmila Novotná lived abroad after the communist takeover in 1948, she still was a fine promoter of Czech music and culture.

The First Monograph on Jarmila Novotná, by Czech historian/author Pavel Kosatík, has been published (in Czech) by Zámek Liteň, z.s. Baronka v Opeře (The Baroness of Opera), Život a Zpívání Jarmily Novotné is a comprehensive history of some 400 pages, and includes dozens of historical and family photos, movie posters, etc, and a bibliography and index.

Her perfectionism and sense of responsibility was greatly cultivated by another man, stage and film director Max Reinhardt (1873-1943), who also emigrated, from Austria in 1938 to Britain and later to the USA.

But he first worked with her in the pre-war years in Germany. Later she would star in the acclaimed war film, The Search.

A third great supporter was the extraordinary conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), who was notoriously known for his accuracy and sense of detail.

And lastly, there was her loving husband Jiří Daubek. She said: “Life is empty without art, but without family it would turn into a desert.”


Today’s fashionistas might not envy all her costumes. Here she is as Octavian in ‘Der Rosenkavalier.’

Pack Well and Carry On – Your Own Suitcase

In the past, costumes were not provided or stored in the theatres. The artists themselves paid renowned salons for their costumes, and traveled with them around the world.

It is known that Jarmila Novotná often traveled with forty to fifty pieces of luggage.

The most striking dress at the exhibit, for Violetta (in Verdi’s La Traviata), still shines like a starry night. It was made by the ‘Czech Coco Chanel’ in Hana Podolská’s salon.

Jarmila Novotná´s landmark role of Violetta was very important for her, and in this costume she amazed audiences in the National Theatre in Prague in 1925, and again at the Met in 1940.

Jarmila Novotná was very slim; therefore, she was often cast into roles of young boys.

For this reason at the exhibit you can see costumes of Cherubino from The Marriage of Figaro and of Octavian, the young lover in Der Rosenkavalier.


With Václav Havel in 1991

The costume of Mařenka from The Bartered Bride is a reminder of the soprano´s debut in the National Theatre in Prague when she was only 17.

The costume for Mimi was made in New York in the Veronica salon, and it recalls her first steps at The Metropolitan Opera.

The Exhibition runs through Jan 4, 2016.

– Jana Mlezivová, and Hana Blažková, Opus Osm writer

Photo Credits: Association of Chateau Liteň

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