Secret Life of the Czech Philharmonic

Cunning Little Vixen

Live ‘frogs’ surprise iconic opera bass Richard Novák in the Czech Philharmonic’s excerpt from ‘The Cunning Little Vixen.’ It’s part of a casual-dress/concert evening explaining top ‘secrets’ of classical music.

The Czech Philharmonic strips down to jeans and trainers, to reveal top (musical!) secrets to a curious audience.

Renowned conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, popular presenter Marek Eben, and leading scriptwriter/filmmaker Alice Nellis – together with the Czech Philharmonic – took the stage in February.

But not for a normal concert. They were there to disclose the behind-the-scenes work of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Janáček’s Příhody lišky Bystroušky (The Cunning Little Vixen), in a more relaxed, rehearsal mode.

It happens in the orchestra’s occasional Zkouška orchestru (Orchestra Rehearsal) series for adults.

“Why are opera suites performed in concert halls without costumes and scenery?” “How do instruments make the sounds of animals or falling in love?” and even “How do you read music?” are questions moderator Eben asks on behalf of the general public seated in The Rudolfinum’s hallowed hall.

Marek Eben

Moderator Marek Eben (l) brings out the lighter side; a young violist confesses it’s easier to nap when playing for an opera!

Violist Pavel Cipris confesses that playing in an opera pit is more comfortable than in a concert hall because the audience can’t deeply scrutinize your clothes “and you can even have a nap.”

Conductor Bělohlávek shares that playing a waltz correctly requires not only reading the music score, but also “just giving everything enough time.”

He leads the orchestra in a bit of a Strauss grand waltz, and then in the way they would play it in a bar. Mr Eben praises first violinist Irena Herajnová’s performance … and then wonders whether she has some other job at night. She giggles and gently bows to the audience.

But Janáček´s waltz is a different cup of tea. The squeaky violin sound shows that we’ve moved from the city to the deep forest, with the instruments portraying the dancing forest fowls and the haggling between the grasshopper and the cricket.

Marek Eben is little surprised when Jiří Bělohlávek defines the vixen´s yearning more like a young girl’s – and nothing about chicken and ducks. Though later, the vixen actually slaughters all the fowls in the yard, so Marek Eben asks, “Which instruments do the slaughtering?”


Richard Novák

Then a beloved guest appears on stage, bass Richard Novák (*1931), in the forester’s role he has mastered and owns. But this role can never be fully admired, laments Jiří Bělohlávek, as the lyrics as interpreted by an opera singer can hardly ever be understood.

So Marek Eben searches for the most bombastic moment in the forester´s speech which might be quite tiring for a younger audience. Jiří Bělohlávek thinks that it might be the surprising arrival of frogs, when little singers amuse the audience and awaken the forester who has dozed off.

At the rehearsal’s time-out, the audience adjourns for a glass of wine and the orchestra dresses in gala clothes. Then we listen to both the Strauss and Janáček pieces without interruption. But Conductor Bělohlávek discreetly reminds us with quick glances of some of the earlier-mentioned parts of the compositions.


Insights from such public rehearsals enable the orchestra and audience alike to enjoy the performance even more.

Meanwhile we can look forward to more Czech Philharmonic eye-and-ear openers. The next one (in Czech only) is planned for May 5-7, 2016 at The Rudolfinum.

– Hana Blažková, Opus Osm writer

Photo Credits: The Czech Philharmonic

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