Josef Kajetán Tyl Theatre - Pilsen, Czech Republic, 2014
Vojtěch Spurný, Magdalena Švecová, Jan Ježek, Ivana Klimentová, Jiří Brückler, Jan Adamec, Dalibor Tolaš, Roman Dušek
Armel Opera Festival, ARTE Concert - 9 October 2014
A contemporary composer who bases an opera on the story of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' sets himself up for some potential ridicule, but veteran Czech composer Jaroslav Krček's one-act opera Clothes the world has never seen (Šaty, jaké svět neviděl) straddles the divide between the classical and the modern well by underpinning the medieval setting of the work with folk-like melodies. This comes across particularly well in this stylish production by the Josef Kajetán Tyl Theatre of Pilsen in the Czech Republic presented at the 2014 Armel Opera Festival in Budapest.
The libretto for Clothes the world has never seen was written by the composer himself, based on a play by Věra Provazníková that is drawn from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale. This short opera works very much towards the same moral of the original fairy tale, but rather than it being a child that draws attention to the Emperor's pretension and pomposity, this version plays on the distinction between the king and his fool, and the reversal of what we expect from people in those positions.
Fed up with the responsibilities that come with being ruler and viewing a marriage to the Queen with some concern, the king asks his fool to think how clever he would be in the same position. When the Queen appears however, both men are captivated by her beauty, and the challenge between them takes on a new edge. Trying to demonstrate his superiority, the king however allows himself to be duped into ordering custom made clothes stitched with invisible thread that can only be seen by the wise and the noble. The question of who is wise and noble is of course overturned by the fool when the 'transparency' of this thinking is revealed.
Not unsurprisingly, being a Czech opera with folk music elements and clearly working the music to the speech rhythms of the libretto, there's an evident Janáček influence here. Rather than blending the elements of the old and the new together however, Jaroslav Krček's music draws a greater distinction between them in a way that reflects the opposition of old and new ideas that are the subject of the work. The medieval like folk-music arrangements of the chorus that punctuate the work give an appropriate fairy-tail narrative quality, while the discourse that is carried out between the king and the fool according to their own rhythms has a slightly more dissonant edge to it.
Although subtitles weren't available on the ARTE broadcast to examine the detail of the libretto, the production carried all the necessary nuance for this short work. The contrasting musical elements were vividly drawn out by the musical director and conductor Vojtěch Spurný and they found a complementary balance in Zuzana Přidalová's colourful and imaginative stage designs. Magdalena Švecová's direction further enhanced the contrast and complementary battle of wits between Jan Ježek's King and Jiří Brückler's Jester. Clothes the world has never seen was presented at the Armel Opera Festival in a double bill with another short one-act opera, Gábor Kerek's Parody. Entertainingly scored and played, its contrasting views of a Chemistry lesson in a classroom proved impossible to follow however in Czech without subtitles.
Links: ARTE Concert, Armel Opera Festival