Libuše, Opera by Bedřich Smetana
Bedřich Smetana is the father figure of Bohemian music. A talented pianist and a devoted patriot, in the second half of the 19th century he composed several high-profile operas and many symphonic poems that played a defining role in the formation of the modern Czech musical landscape. Smetana’s opera Libuše is a beautiful love letter to Prague, and this season it returns to its home city.
Smetana wrote Libuše in 1872, riding on the coattails of his two previous successful operas, The Bartered Bride (1866) and Dalibor (1868). Built around the story of a legendary queen who played a crucial role in the founding of Prague, Smetana’s fourth opera was meant to celebrate the coronation of Emperor Franz Josef as king of Bohemia.
Because the coronation never happened, however, Libuše only saw its premiere on 11 June 1881, to mark the opening of the National Theatre in Prague. After a fire devastated the newly built theatre, Smetana’s operatic testament to Prague graced the stage on the reconstructed venue’s opening night in 1883 as well. Since then, Libuše remains one of the finest examples of the Bohemian music genre, and it is a steeple of Czech local and national pride.
The opera derives its plot from a German libretto by Josef Wenzig, translated to Czech by Ervin Špindler. Queen Libuše settles an inheritance dispute between two brothers, forcing them to share their father’s lands equally according to Czech law. The elder brother Chrudoš, however, favours German law’s preference for the first-born heir and threatens retribution.
Krasava, Chrudoš’s love interest, confronts him and demands he reconcile with his brother and apologise to the Queen. To please his love, the elder brother complies with her requests, and the opera culminates in a happy ending with the double wedding between Krasava and Chrudoš and Queen Libuše and the farmer Přemysl. Amidst the celebrations, Libuše foretells the founding of Prague and the rise of the Czech nation.
Smetana explores the themes of brotherly love and romantic love as well as patriotism, unity and national optimism in a musically and dramatically persuasive way. Libuše is often considered the most mature and evocative of his Bohemian works. Prague’s guests will get a unique demonstration of the Czech national spirit this season.