STERNENHOCH

Ivan Acher

NATIONAL THEATRE – OPERA

Michal Dočekal

STERNENHOCH Klíma’s grotesque novella The Suffering of Prince Sternenhoch has spewed its incandescent sputum, like an unquenchable magma chamber, over five generations of searchers for forces both underground and cosmic. It strikes, inspires, burns and incinerates. The unique combination of low and high, grotesque and horror, philosophy of the highest spheres and the grossness of the everyday is sufficiently fertile ground for the author of the music, which in terms of genre likes to morph, alternating darkness with grotesqueness, and feels a great affinity with the author of the original material in the way in which he deals with the earthly time allotted. The expressionist character of Ladislav Klíma’s work, and the whole theme of the fictitious diary full of murders and dreams of murders, chattering and lofty philosophising by the pentangle of main characters is a direct challenge to use trained voices in the new context of the sound possibilities of electronic composition. Composition that for all its experimental character does not depart completely from the field of historic music, but makes use of it in the new conditions brought by a combination of sampling, pure electronics and real instruments. This production of Acher’s Sternenhoch directed by Michal Dočekal has become a contemporary operatic hit, as shown by relentless interest on the part of audiences, critics and festivals. In the 2018 Divadelní noviny critics’ survey it won the title Production of the Year.

Opera is highly stylised art, which during the more than four hundred years of its existence has already achieved all sorts of things. And so it has also managed to deal with Sternenhoch, his expressive obscenity and exclusive philosophy. Klíma has had, of course, to wait for composer Ivan Acher, who understands him brilliantly and is able to transpose his soul into a tragi-grotesque grand opera, and yet in a highly economical way. His musical language is based on opera, he knows how to write a perfect cantilena, he is not afraid of either pathos or ecstasy, and at the same time his music, in its simplicity, is reminiscent of Glass-like minimalism, over which there arches a crystal melody. As well as this we hear hints of ethnic music, jazz, appealing film music and cabaret.
– Radmila Hrdinová, Právo

The defining elements here are rhythm, tempo and sound. The approximately eighty-minute long production flows in ten contrasting scenes with a clearly-related prologue and a grand finale. The alternation is not showy and importunate, but creates a feeling of a continual inner pulse. The mad speed of the satanic mazurka in the second scene and the whirl of Sternenhoch’s hallucinations in the penultimate scene strengthen the impression of a closed, symmetric whole. The central part of the opera – the wedding, child and Helga’s meeting with her lover – flow, in contrast to this, with a dignified and lyrical tempo.
– Boris Klepal, aktuálně.cz

MICHAL DOČEKAL (1965) studied direction at DAMU, followed by an internship at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. In 1991–1994 he was director at the Kašpar theatre company, and in 1994–2002 he reshaped Prague’s Divadlo Komedie as its director and artistic head (it won an Alfréd Radok Award for Theatre of the Year in 1996). From 2002 to 2015 he was the artistic head of the National Theatre’s drama company, and for the next two years its director. In 2011 he was elected a member of the steering committee of the Union of European Theatres (UTE), which currently brings together 21 significant theatres throughout Europe. Since 2015 he has been president of the UTE. He regularly directs in foreign theatres (the Vígszínház in Budapest, the Hungarian Theatre in Cluj, the Teatrul Bulandra in Bucharest, the Aréna in Bratislava, the Slovak National Theatre). His productions have won a number of awards and have been invited to international festivals, such as Theatre in Pilsen, POSZT in Pécs, Interferences in Cluj, the Festival of National Theatres in Warsaw, MESS in Sarajevo, the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro in Bogota and others. Since the 2018/19 season he has been the artistic head of the Prague City Theatres.

The NATIONAL THEATRE OPERA has been part of the National Theatre from the very beginning. Since 2012 there have once again been two opera companies at the National Theatre, the National Theatre Opera, whose productions can be seen in the historic building of the National Theatre and the Estates Theatre, and the State Opera company in the building of the same name. During the theatre season the two companies show over 40 opera performances a month, with a repertoire that ranges from baroque to contemporary composers. For many years the National Theatre Opera has worked with a large number of significant music and opera festivals, not only in the Czech Republic. They include work with the Prague Spring International Music Festival, the Smetana’s Litomyšl International Opera Festival, participation in the festivals at Edinburgh (1970), Lucerne (1978), Salzburg (2002), Wiesbaden (2005), and appearances abroad in Catania, Italy (2005), Valencia, Spain (2007), the Canary Islands (2008), Cyprus (2011) and regular tours of Jap