I breathed in a stuffy stench upon entering the covert hostel across from the Charles Bridge in Prague. As a one of the hostel’s employees showed me to my room he quizzed me on my knowledge of Antonín Dvorák.
“This is the Dvorák room, famous musician in Prague. You know Dvorák?“ he asked.
”Yes, I do.“ I replied. A slight twitch of surprise flashed across his face.
”I used to play the piano, so…yeah. “ I added on. He nodded. I guess that was appropriate reasoning for the Asian tourist to have heard of a Czech musician.
While I never learned to play anything by Dvorák, my mother encouraged participation in the arts at a young age, often playing a music audio program for me before bed when I was in elementary school. It was through the program that I was first introduced to Dvorák. While I remembered little about the musician, the hostel employee reengaged my interest in him.
To continue my effort to visit an opera house in each of the big cities I visit, I decided to buy last minute tickets to the opera. I had London, Paris, New York and Berlin under my belt; Prague was a must.
The show running on the last night of my trip was Rusalka, a much darker version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The story line follows a water goblin named Rusalka who falls in love with a human prince. Rather than receiving love in return, the water goblin ends up as the Demon of Death when she fails to obtain the prince’s love.
Composers under oppressive regimes tend to produce darker stories, and Dvorák was no exception to that with Rusalka. This was the second time I encountered his name and the liaison between mesmerizing melodies of the human voice and the complex, intense and conflict-driven plot captivated me, despite my crappy 20 dollar seat.
When Rusalka sang about finding her lover in “Měsíčku Na Nebi Hlubokém” (Song To The Moon), I was in awe. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful melody that I had heard sometime before while listening to one of my many classical music albums without knowing what opera piece it belonged to. It was a moment of epiphany for me. I could not stop playing it on Spotify after returning from my trip.
Besides the emotional thrill I experienced in Dvoràk’s masterpiece, the spectacle and innovation in style and theatrical setting really blew my mind. Rusalka managed to create a pool of water in the middle of the stage for the Water Goblins to dance in. The inclusion of modern dance and rippling waves was one of the most magical scenes I have witnessed in the theater.
Dvorák amazed me. After a decade of only knowing his name, my affair with him from the hostel to the National Opera House at Prague was phenomenal. Rusalka was heart-wrenching, unfiltered and enchanting.
Prague is definitely a city infused with rich culture and history, but one of the reasons I adore and attempt to collect visits at opera houses in these cities is that there is something universal about opera that is almost never tainted by the claws of capitalism and commercialization. Because even with both attempts in consideration, you can’t change the essence that Vivaldi, Wagner, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Dvorák bring to their music. Moreover, the avant-garde and creative touches Europe brings to its opera productions are extraordinary. The opera itself is a collection and fusion of the past and the present, of visual and musical art forms that transform your night from an exotic to enchanting experience of life.
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