National Theatre Orchestra and Chorus
Premiere performances: 28 and 30 May 2020 at the National Theatre
“Czechs, German, citizens of the world – gather round! See a fairy tale in two acts and five scenes, penned by Miloš Kareš and adapted by Max Brod. What is it about? About lime-trees in bloom. About Queens of Darkness who fail to do what they desire to do. About bandits who do great good. About the Devil who loses a card-game. Dorotka is here. And Švanda can do incredible things – with that instrument of his. Long live the Czech bagpiper! Long live Dorotka! Horses, varlets, men with scythes, a soup for lunch, an astronomical clock stolen from the Devil, carriages, carts, bells of all tunes, thunders and thunderbolts, ominous figures, bats and an infernal marriage game. In the end, they all shout: Hail!”
That is how the stage director Vladimír Morávek invites audiences of all generations, particularly children and their parents, to attend an extraordinary performance of the opera Schwanda the Bagpiper by the Czech (and later on, American too) composer Jaromír Weinberger. Along with Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů, he was one of the select few Czechs whose music gained global acclaim. In the mid-1920s, during the time of the first Czechoslovak Republic, Weinberger and the humourist Miloš Kareš wrote a loose sequel to J. K. Tyl’s tall story The Strakonice Bagpiper. Švanda is married to his beloved Dorotka, yet he feels restless at home. And so, when the bandit Babinský tells him what is there to enjoy abroad ... What follows is a crazy story, something like an opera-comic strip, giving an account of the adventures of Švanda the bagpiper and his bandit companion, who experience merry, as well as rather torrid moments. And whenever it seems that our heroes are done for good, the best of the Czech nature prevails – craftiness and love of music. Weinberger’s fabulous – and truly folksy – opera garnered ovations at many theatres in Europe. As translated by Max Brod (a friend and associate of Franz Kafka and Leoš Janáček), in 1931 Schwanda the Bagpiper was even staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.