Antonín Dvořák: Rusalka, op. 114, B. 203
The moon bathes the entire world in clear light and the hunter vainly hunts for his white doe. The fairytale atmosphere of Rusalka is so intoxicating that it enables us to forget the depth of understanding for stature and wretchedness that are common to both people and supernatural creatures. Dvořák and Kvapil’s Rusalka is a lyric story of desire for a human soul which is full of sin, but also love. It is about the fleetingness of great sentiments and the inability to communicate. But also about the fact that it is not possible to take back one’s decisions. Rusalka is not only a fairytale about unrequited love, but also a psychological and symbolic drama, which has rightfully become one of the most frequently performed Czech operas of the present day.
The conductor Jiří Bělohlávek said of Rusalka that it touches on all aspects of human nature, namely love, desire, passion, betrayal, revenge, death, abandonment and sacrifice, in such a fascinating and natural arc that it takes one’s breath away.
The Dvořák Prague festival has joined forces with the Czech Philharmonic and its principal conductor Semyon Bychkov in order to jointly follow on from the previous activities of the festival’s Opera in Concert series with a performance of Dvořák’s operatic gem. After performances of Dvořák’s lesser known operas, this performance will be of the one that made Dvořák internationally famous as an operatic composer. Semyon Bychkov and the festival’s dramaturgy have invited a group of international soloists such as can be heard at the most famous opera and concert houses around the world. All aspects of Dvořák’s best opera will thus light up with the uninterrupted power of the author’s music.
The Czech Philharmonic is the foremost Czech orchestra and has long held a place among the most esteemed representatives of Czech culture on the international scene. The beginning of its rich history is linked to the name of Antonín Dvořák, who on 4 January 1896 conducted the ensemble’s inaugural concert. Although the orchestra performs a broad range of the core international repertoire, it is sought out most often for its superb interpretations of the classics by the great Czech composers in a tradition built up by great conductors (Talich, Kubelík, Ančerl, Neumann, and Bělohlávek). In 2008 the prestigious magazine Gramophone ranked it among the twenty best orchestras of the world. One of the orchestra’s most important recent projects has recording Tchaikovsky’s complete orchestral works for the Decca Label with Semyon Bychkov conducting. Since the inception of the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Czech Philharmonic has been its resident orchestra, and since 2018 it has been a holder of the Antonín Dvořák Prize for promoting and popularising Czech classical music abroad and in the Czech Republic.
Semyon Bychkov is one of today’s most sought-after conductors because of his clear opinions on interpretation and his emphasis on beauty of sound. He was born in 1952 in what was then called Leningrad, and he graduated from the conservatoire there. After emigrating from the Soviet Union to the United States in the 1970s, he soon earned an outstanding international reputation. He has been a long-term collaborator with the world’s best orchestras, including the philharmonic orchestras in Vienna, Berlin, and Munich, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. He also devotes himself intensively to opera, conducting at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Vienna State Opera, the Teatro Real Madrid, La Scala in Milan, and the Opéra national de Paris, where he has conducted productions of operas ranging from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to Strauss’s Elektra. He also has a vast discography, including highly acclaimed recordings of Verdi’s Requiem and Wagner’s Lohengrin and the complete symphonies of Brahms. Since the 2018/19 season, he has been the chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir is one of Europe’s most important choral ensembles. Founded in 1934 by the legendary choral conductor Jan Kühn, the choir’s original focus of activity as a radio ensemble soon expanded with regular concerts, while its recording activity showcased the choir’s excellence and diversity, earning it wide respect. The choir’s international renown is documented by its collaborations with many of the world’s top conductors (Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Manfred Honeck, Daniel Barenboim, Fabio Luisi, Sir Simon Rattle) and orchestras (Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic). The choir is a regular guest at prestigious music festivals abroad, and it has taken part in opera productions (La Scala, Bregenzer Festspiele). The choir also supports young talent: since 2012 it has been operating an Academy of Choral Singing with a two-year course of study for secondary-school and university students.
Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and musicology at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. From 1998 he was the choirmaster of the Foerster Female Chamber Choir, with which he won a number of awards at prestigious international competitions. From 2005 to 2007 he was the second choirmaster of the opera chorus at Prague’s National Theatre, where he directed rehearsals for several opera productions. Since 2007 he has been the chief choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir. His highly acclaimed work with that choir includes rehearsing and conducting a broad repertoire from various stylistic periods as well as making several recordings, including an exceptionally successful CD of cantatas by Bohuslav Martinů. Vasilek also works as an orchestral conductor and is the founder of the Martinů Voices chamber choir, where he focuses mainly on interpreting music of the 20th and 21st centuries. He actively works to popularise choral music, having served as moderator in 2012 and 2016 for two programmes on Czech Radio on the art of choral singing.
Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian was born in Vilnius and studied at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy. She was a founding member of Vilnius City Opera and has twice been awarded the Golden Stage Cross (the highest award for singers in Lithuania), in 2005 for her debut as Violetta and in 2010 for her performance as Mrs. Lovett Sweeney Todd. Asmik won the Young Female Singer prize at the International Opera Awards in 2016, followed by Female Singer of the Year in 2019. Asmik has made a name for herself on both the concert and operatic platforms since her international career began with a triumphant performance of Madama Butterfly at the Royal Swedish Opera, proving herself as a committed actress and soprano. She then went on to perform Fedora at the same house with established director Christof Loy, with whom she regularly collaborates, followed by Wozzeck at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam with Markus Stenz, which received glowing reviews. In 2017 she made her Salzburg Festival debut in Wozzeck directed by William Kentridge and conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. This was followed in 2018 by her critically acclaimed title role debut as Salome at the Salzburg Festival, in a new production by Romeo Castellucci under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst. Described as “a Salome to end all Salomes” (Financial Times), the role won her the 2019 Austrian Music Theater Award for Best Female Lead. The 2018/19 season saw Asmik’s triumphant house and role debut at Teatro alla Scala as Marietta in Korngold’s Die tote Stadt under Alan Gilbert in a production by Graham Vick, and her role debut as Iolanta at Oper Frankfurt. The 2019/20 season, although cut short, saw Asmik’s return to the role of Manon Lescaut at Oper Frankfurt and at the Bolshoi, and Chrysothemis Elektra at the Salzburg Festival in a production by Krzysztof Warlikowski under Franz Welser-Möst, and in concert performing Shostakovich 14 with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Alexander Shelley, and Beethoven IX under Riccardo Muti at the Salzburg Festival. Asmik returned to the stage in the 2020/21 season as the title role in Christof Loy’s Rusalka at the Teatro Real Madrid under Ivor Bolton. She performed the title role in Madama Butterfly for her debut at the Wiener Staatsoper and made her concert debut at the Opéra de Paris. The summer festival season saw Asmik’s debut at Bayreuth as Senta in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new production of Die Fliegende Hollander and a return to Salzburg for Elektra, highlighting the special relationship she shares with the festival. An exciting 2021/22 season begins with Asmik’s highly anticipated debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in a new production of Jenufa by Claus Guth. Asmik returns to the Wiener Staatsoper for two productions; as Elisabetta in Don Carlo under Franz Welser-Möst; and as the title role in Manon Lescaut in a Robert Carsen production under Nicola Luisotti. Asmik will then return to La Scala for Queen of Spades under Valery Gergiev, and make her debuts at the Deutsche Staatsoper in Jenufa in a production by Damiano Michieletto, and Festspielhaus Baden-Baden in Queen of Spades under Kirill Petrenko. Asmik works with many of the world's leading conductors including Valery Gergiev, Gianandrea Noseda, Vasily Petrenko, Franz Welser-Möst, Yves Abel, Vladimir Jurowski, Kirill Petrenko, Oksana Lyniv, Markus Stenz, Mikhail Tatarnikov, Alan Gilbert, and Michael Tilson-Thomas. Asmik frequently collaborates with top stage directors including Dmitri Tcherniakov, Romeo Castellucci, Damiano Michieletto, Robert Carsen, Claus Guth, Dalia Ibelhauptaitė, Christof Loy, Barrie Kosky, Alex Ollé, Peter Konwitschny, Robert Wilson, and Vasily Barkhatov to name a few. 2022 will see the release of Asmik’s debut album, a recording of Rachmaninov Songs with pianist Lukas Genusias for Alpha Classics. They will subsequently perform the programme in a series of recitals around Europe in the 2021/22 season, visiting La Scala Milano, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and the Laeiszhalle Hamburg among many others.
The Rudolfinum is one of the most important Neo-Renaissance edifices in the Czech Republic. In its conception as a multi-purpose cultural centre it was quite unique in Europe at the time of its construction. Based on a joint design by two outstanding Czech architects, Josef Zítek and Josef Schultz, a magnificent building was erected serving for concerts, as a gallery, and as a museum. The grand opening on 7 February 1885 was attended by Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, in whose honour the structure was named. In 1896 the very first concert of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra took place in the Rudolfinum's main concert hall, under the baton of the composer Antonín Dvořák whose name was later bestowed on the hall.