Smetana’s epic Má vlast (My Country) – six symphonic poems celebrating the history, mythology and glorious countryside of Bohemia – traditionally opens the Festival and is always a memorable and moving occasion; this year Daniel Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic bring their expertise to this majestic work.
The delightful and superbly restored Karlín Theatre has long been home to distinguished productions in Prague and is an ideal venue for Humperdinck’s charming Hansel und Gretel.
Admired by J.S. Bach, Jan Dismas Zelenka is the greatest Czech Baroque composer. This year his intensely beautiful passion oratorio Gesù al Calvario is performed by Prague’s premier early music group, Ensemble Inégal, in the lovely acoustic of the Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Hall. Returning to the Rudolfinum on day five, we have the opportunity of hearing Germany’s premiere coloratura soprano, Diana Damrau, in a dazzling series of operatic arias. The final performance is Smetana’s classic, heart-warming comedy The Bartered Bride in the magnificent National Theatre, once memorably described as the nation’s true ‘hearth and home’.
Given that the festival is also a celebration of Czech nationhood, this tour is not only about attending concerts. You also have the opportunity to join guided walks and excursions through the beautiful city of Prague. There are daily talks and discussions with distinguished Czech musicologist, writer and broadcaster, Jan Smaczny. However, afternoons are left free for independent exploration – or for preserving your energies for the evening performances.
Fly at c. 1.30pm from London Heathrow to Prague (British Airways). Drive to the hotel in the Old Town in time for dinner.
Morning walk through the Old Town, a dense maze of streets and squares with buildings of all ages and an exceptionally lovely main square. A visit to the Obecní dům (‘Municipal House’) to see the glorious suite of assembly rooms created 1904–12. Evening concert at the Obecní dům: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim (conductor): Smetana, Má vlast.
A private guided tour of the Estates Theatre, where Don Giovanni had its première in 1786. Visit the Veletržni (Trade Fair) Palace of 1928 which now houses fascinating Czech art of the 19th and 20th centuries and a remarkable holding of modern French art. Evening opera at the Karlín Theatre: Humperdinck, Hansel und Gretel (cast to be confirmed).
Drive up to Prague Castle, the extensive hilltop complex, long-time residence of the Dukes and Kings of Bohemia and now the home of the President. Visit the mediaeval Old Royal Palace, within it the largest stone hall in Europe with incredible late-Gothic vaulting, and the Cathedral of St Vitus, a pioneering monument of High Gothic, richly embellished with chapels, tombs, altarpieces and stained glass. Evening concert at the Rudolfinum: Ensemble Inégal, Adam Viktora (conductor): Zelenka, Gesù al Calvario.
Walk across the 14th-century Charles Bridge, the greatest such structure in Europe, wonderfully adorned with sculptures. In the Lesser Town visit St Nicholas, one of the finest Baroque churches in Central Europe and the Czech Museum of Music, which houses an interesting collection of musical instruments. Evening concert at the Rudolfinum: Prague Philharmonia, Emmanuel Villaume (conductor), Diana Damrau (soprano): works by Meyerbeer, Thomas, Massent, Wagner, Ponchielli, Bellini.
A morning walk in and around Wenceslas Square, threading through a succession of arcades which takes in some outstanding turn-of-the-century architecture, decoration and early modernist masterpieces. Free afternoon. Evening opera at the National Theatre: Smetana, The Bartered Bride (cast to be confirmed).
Strahov Monastery has commanding views over Prague and two magnificent library halls, which by special arrangement we enter. Then walk down the hill, passing the formidable bulk of the Černín Palace and the delightful façade of the Loreto Church. The flight returns to London Heathrow at c. 1.40pm.
Professor Jan Smaczny
Hamilton Harty Chair of Music at Queen’s University, Belfast, and an authority on Czech music. An author, broadcaster and journalist, he has published books on the Prague Provisional Theatre, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, Music in 19th-century Ireland and Bach’s B-minor Mass. He is a graduate of the University of Oxford, has studied at the Charles University in Prague and has worked extensively in university education.
Two sharing: £2,870 or £2,690 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,260 or £3,080 without flights.
Included: flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus A320); private coach for airport transfers and excursions; hotel accommodation as described below; 4 dinners, 1 lunch with wine; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and Czech guide-interpreter.
Tickets (top category) to 3 concerts and 2 operas are included, costing c. £350. Tickets are confirmed in January 2017.
Hotel Paris Prague is a 5-star hotel built in 1904 that retains the Art Nouveau theme throughout. Comfortable and elegant but not fussy with a good restaurant and café. Very well located in the Old Town close to Obecní dům (Municipal House). Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking, much of it on roughly paved streets, some on inclines. The tour would not be suitable for anyone with difficulties with everyday walking and stair-climbing.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.
'Professor Smaczny was on very good form and perhaps especially informative given his links with the area and the music. His lectures were interesting, amusing, beautifully pitched for the audience. '
'Thank you for a marvellous trip. We enjoyed it enormously!'