A night at the Prague Opera
The orchestra tuned up below us as hundreds of people, nicely dressed and sipping wine, drifted into the dark theatre dimly lit by an ornate golden chandelier that hung suspended from the richly decorated ceiling. I looked around the gorgeous interior - the nods to classical architecture evident but tinted with the richness of Rococo. I caught my breath as the lights dimmed, the orchestra lifted their instruments, the crowd hushed and the strong, tense notes of Wagner’s Lohengrin echoed throughout the gilded, glimmering theatre.
Living in Europe has placed us near numerous wonderful cities, and it seems impossible to visit them all within the space of a single tour. Even more difficult is the chance to slow down and enjoy each city - vast and full of wonders as they so often are. One way that my husband and I have found to do this has been through attending operas. My initial thoughts about operas - people in funny clothing singing in a language I didn’t understand - changed prodigiously after our experience in the autumn of 2016 when we visited the Paris Opera. Like Paris, Prague supports the arts in a manner that allows inexpensive tickets to be sold, so that beautiful cultural experiences are not merely limited to the wealthy. Unlike Paris, Prague did not have the last-minute nosebleed seats for five euros, but it did have buy-ahead tickets for 18 euros for the top gallery that allowed us to have a wonderful and affordable evening at the opera.
Like in Paris, nicer clothing is encouraged, though not mandatory. There were ladies in attendance in floor-length dresses and pearls, but I did not feel out of place in a shorter dress and heels (I brought the heels and changed into them - cobblestones are death to stilettos, and to those brave fools who wear them while walking around an old city!). My husband wore a jacket and tie, as did many of the other gentlemen.
Although our seats were in the top gallery, Gallery 2, we had an excellent view of the stage and could even see into the orchestra pit, which is almost as fascinating. We rented opera glasses for one euro at the cloakroom where a friendly attendant told us about the beautiful terrace that we could access from our gallery, as well as the directions to the refreshment area off of Gallery 1, where we ventured to grab a quick drink before the opera. We were able to purchase excellent champagne for a few euros and then walked around the beautiful gallery and foyer, enjoying the gorgeous statues and lovely impressionist paintings of the Czech countryside.
We found our seats well before the beginning of the opera’s first act - opera attendants are famously unforgiving to those found trying to enter after the curtain rises. A digital board at the top of the stage translated the German lines being sung into the local language (Czech) and English.
Additionally, the hefty information pamphlet we received for free at the cloakroom had a detailed summary of the acts, which helped enormously. Though not as dynamic or gripping as the Paris Opera House’s version of Samson and Delilah, Lohengrin was interesting as a story, and as a cultural touchstone: helpful in understanding Wagner’s influence on German Nationalism. The beautiful thing about going to an opera in a foreign city, however, lies in the experience as a whole: the warm night, the undulating syllables of the Czech language, the taste of cool champagne, the stirring notes of Wagner and the gilded interior of the opera house.
During the intermissions, we made our way out onto the terrace that the kind woman in the cloakroom had told us about. The terrace itself was worth the money we paid for our ticket: surrounded by a carved stone wall topped with flowing statues and looking out over the beautiful river the cuts through the center of the Old Town. The river lay below us, shining golden in the late sunset, and across its bank reared up Prague Castle and the twisting streets of the Mala Strana. Boats moved lazily along the river and people, small as ants, passed below on the streets. Streetcars seemed like toys as they passed on their well-marked trails through the city, and behind us, the sounds of the orchestra tuning up drifted out of the ornate theatre.
The opera ended late, but the lovely Art Deco cafe across the street - Café Slavia - was open until Midnight. There we had a late dinner of delicious Czech food - the salads are particularly scrumptious and the seasonal menu divine. Across the street from us the interior lights of the National Gallery were dimming and black-clothed figures toting instrument cases walked down the broad stone steps. A streetcar passed on the quieting streets, and the boats on the river shed a dim light on the water.
We had found the heart of Prague, and it was beautiful.
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