One of the great things about being in Europe is how I can indulge in theater and music without it being a very rare, very special occasion. Back home, I’ve watched wonderfully entertaining performances with family and friends (Avenue Q, Miss Saigon, Peter Pan, Spring Awakening, Taming of the Shrew, Fiddler on the Roof, to name some), but usually, my attendance to these shows are few and far between. Not so, here.
Festivals possess Brno in the summer, and over the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky to catch some of them.
Festival Špilberk is an open air music festival held in the courtyard of the Špilberk Castle.
Though I saw the posters and advertisements splayed across the city, I was first introduced to it by my friend and officemate, Eva Blažková, who used to work for the Brno Philharmonic. She mentioned to me that she had an extra ticket for the opening performance, called Romeo a Julie (Romeo and Juliet), and invited me to go with her.
I took along with me my AIESEC friend Maryann, from Hungary, who enjoys classical music, and we met up 30 minutes before the performance, by the tram stop near the castle. Though it was only a ten minute walk up the hill, I was amazed to see people in formal dress, stilettos and all, braving the cobblestones and altitude in order to enjoy the music in the proper way. I, woefully under-dressed, worried for a while about these suited men and stylish ladies, until I saw a troop of denim-clad people enter the grounds as well. Relief!
What I liked in particular was that people would have the choice to go their seats right away, or stay in the outer area before the performance — drinking wine or beer while socializing. When it was time to go in, a group of trumpeters would herd us to an inner cloister, trumpets blaring. They’d let us stay for a few more minutes, and then trumpet again to get us moving. Nicely subtle way, hmm?
What can I say about that first night? It was spectacular, with the performance split into two parts: Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, and then Prokofjev’s Romeo and Juliet. Chopin was inspiring — as if you wanted to breathe the music in and let it be a part of you, strengthening you. Prokofjev, on the other hand, was dramatic and uninhibited — as if you were being immersed in a sweeping story that was greater than an individual.
If you can’t imagine what I mean by the latter description, listen to The Montagues and the Capulets, the song I enjoyed the most in the performance: Prokofjev – Montagues and Capulets
I also attended a Shakespeare Festival that’s one of the oldest in the region, held in Brno’s old town square, right in the center of the city. Usually, the shows are in Czech or Slovak, but two English ones were done by a British theater group. I was able to go to the outdoor performance of As You Like It, a comedy that had the most dynamic actors that would hand out bad poetry to the audience, climb on our chairs and chat with us during the intermission. It took me a while to get adjusted to the Shakespearean English, but I didn’t mind concentrating a little harder on the actors.
Lastly, I attended the closing concert of Festival Špilberk, called To nejlepší z muzikálu (The Best of the Musicals). Leafing through the pamphlets, I saw a skin-tingling repertoire: Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side Story, among others. This time, I went with Marti, my other Hungarian friend and fellow lover of musicals. After being herded in by the trumpeters yet again, I sat in eager anticipation in my seat, only to find the first song being belted out in Czech.
My first thought was, “OMG :(” but I recovered after the second song, the Czech rendition of On My Own from Les Miserables, which utterly transcended language barriers. After a while I sat back, and simply enjoyed the music, some of which was in English, some in Czech.
Here is what I recorded of the show: One Day More, from Les Miserables (in Czech):
What do you think of it? My favorites, though, were the versions of El Tango de Roxanne from Moulin Rouge, and the eargasmic tri-lingual versions of Belle, from Notre Dame de Paris (sung in English, French, and Czech).
What’s amazing is that the next day, when I woke up and stumbled to the kitchen, my guy flatmate was playing strangely familiar Czech music–which turned out to be the translations of the musical Witches of Eastwick. Say what you want about Czech people, but they definitely know their music.
Čau, přátelé! (Bye, friends!)