Václav Kašlík

Born September 28, 1917, died June 4, 1989.
Václav Kašlík studied composition and conducting at Prague’s Conservatory and, in parallel, musicology and aesthetics at Charles University. After graduating from the conservatory he continued studying opera directing under the tutelage of the stage director Ferdinand Pujman and conducting in the master class of Václav Talich, who would have a crucial influence on Kašlík’s future artistic direction. The first steps in his theatre career led Kašlík to Prague’s E. F. Burian Theatre, where he worked as a conductor (1940-41) and also made his theatre composition debut with the ballet Juan, which would later be staged at the National Theatre too. The conductor Václav Talich not only honed Kašlík’s conducting skills but also supported his directing work. Under his patronage, in 1942 Kašlík debuted as a stage director at the National Theatre with an evening of two one-acters by the composer Pavel Bořkovec – the ballet The Pied Piper and the opera Satyr – in which Talich introduced to the theatre world not only Kašlík as a stage director but also another of his pupils – the conductor Jaroslav Krombholc. In the production Kašlík also worked for the first time with the set designer František Tröster.
However, Kašlík received a permanent engagement as a conductor and stage director in Brno, where during his year-long stay (1943-44) he prepared the music and directed Dvořák’s Rusalka and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Back in Prague, in 1945 he was one of the founders of the 5 May Theatre (in the building of the former German Theatre) and was at the helm of the opera ensemble as artistic chief, stage director and conductor until its integration with the National Theatre in 1948. Between 1945 and 1948 the 5 May Theatre engendered such legendary opera productions as, for example, Smetana’s The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride, Kašlík’s The Brigand Ballad, Bizet’s Carmen, Prokofiev’s Masquerade (all directed by Václav Kašlík), Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann and Verdi’s Rigoletto (directed by Alfréd Radok) and Puccini’s La Bohème and Tosca (directed by Karel Jernek).
Following the merging of the 5 May Theatre and the National Theatre, Václav Kašlík joined the National Theatre, remaining there in artistic and managerial posts right up until his death. At the beginning, he devoted to productions in musical and directorial terms – co-creating, for example, two productions taken over from the 5 May Theatre (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and Masquerade), as well as Kvapil’s A May Tale (1950) and Carmen (1954). Stage direction, however, gradually assumed pre-eminence. The most noteworthy of his productions performed on all three stages of the National Theatre are Smetana’s Dalibor (1955) and The Bartered Bride (1955 and 1958), Janáček’s The Makropoulos Affair (1956) and The Excursions of Mr. Brouček (1959), Martinů’s Julietta (1963) and The Greek Passion (1967 and 1984), Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1962 and 1969) and Die Zauberflöte (1961), Verdi’s Aida (1957) and Macbeth (1978), Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (1960), Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (1968), Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1978).
Václav Kašlík became one of the foremost stage directors of the National Theatre Opera, participating in its artistic successes from 1948 to 1989. In directing terms, he strove to make opera productions as dramatically dynamic, vivid, visually attractive and original as possible. This principle also manifested itself in the productions’ set-design component, on which he first collaborated with František Tröster, and later on, and ever more frequently, with Josef Svoboda. In his productions Kašlík used film techniques and projections in, for example, the hugely successful Rusalka (1960), which over the course of 30 years had some 642 reruns, and Dalibor (1961). He also managed to utilise the space and genius loci of the Estates Theatre to the full in another of his celebrated productions, 1969’s Don Giovanni, whose directing conception and, above all, set design is also used in the current production of this immortal opera at the Estates Theatre.
In addition to several ballets and instrumental compositions, Václav Kašlík is the author of two operas and two music dramas. Besides the mentioned The Brigand Ballad (1939-41), an opera to this own libretto drawing upon folk texts, he composed the opera Krakatit (1960-61), based on Karel Čapek’s novel (staged at the National Theatre in 1966), and the music dramas La Strada (1980), to his own libretto according to Federico Fellini’s script (National Theatre in 1982), and The Pied Piper (1981-83), after the novel by Viktor Dyk.
The compendium of Kašlík’s artistic work does not end with composing. It is impossible to overlook his stage directing abroad. The first production he directed abroad was his own ballet Jánošík at Dresden’s Staatsoper, followed by a host of other works, including Rusalka for Venice (Teatro la Fenice), Amsterdam (Holland Festival), Vienna (Volksoper), Munich (Gärtnerplatz Theater) and Karlsruhe (Staatstheater); Hindemith’s Cardillac in Milan (Teatro alla Scala); Boris Godunov at Arena di Verona; Dalibor, The Tales of Hoffmann, Faust and Margarita, Martinů’s The Miracles of Mary for Wiesbaden (Staatstheater); Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Verdi’s Nabucco, Wagner’s Tannhäuser for London (Covent Garden); Julietta, Carmen, Janáček’s Katya Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen and The Makropoulos Affair, The Bartered Bride, Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Verdi’s Il Trovatore for Hannover (Staatsoper).
A separate chapter is Kašlík’s television and film directing of opera. Václav Kašlík was a distinctive international representative of this specific media art, directing several dozen opera and ballet productions for Czech Television and the German TV channel ZDF, the most famous of which are the film adaptations of the operas The Bartered Bride and Rusalka.
Václav Kašlík is also the author of a volume of memoirs with the characteristic title How I Made Opera (Panton, Prague 1987).