Thursday, November 4, 2010

Czech Gestures

In America, we have a lot of gestures we think are fairly universal. Shrugging your shoulders means “I don’t know.” Holding your thumb upright outstretched from a closed fist means “good job” or “ok.” While these are found in Czech culture, there are other gestures that are not found in American culture.

For example, pointing at your forehead or temple with your finger means, “You’re stupid or not that bright.” Holding one’s hand in a closed fist with the thumb inside is a way to wish someone good luck. Slapping one’s palm over the top of their fist is an obscene gesture related to sex. Holding one’s hand with the fingers outstretched, thumb pointed toward the nose, is a way or ridiculing or jeering the other person. Holding your hand in a fist with the index finger and pinkie outstretched is a rude gesture to indicate to the receiver that their partner is cheating on them. It’s often used at football (soccer) games when the crowd disagrees with the referee’s decision.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kure Na Paprice (Chicken Paprika)

Kure Na Paprice (Chicken Paprika)

Ingredients
-2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut into chunks
-4 teaspoons paprika
-1 Tablespoon butter
-1 Tablespoon olive oil
-½ cup onion, chopped
-1 cup chicken broth
-¼ cup sour cream
-Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
1. Season chicken with 1 teaspoon paprika, salt and pepper.
2. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium to high heat and sauté chicken on both sides until thoroughly cooked. Set aside.
3. Add butter to skillet. Sauté onion until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Add remaining 3 teaspoons paprika and stir.
5. Add chicken broth to mixture and boil until sauce is thickened, about 8 minutes.
6. Place chicken back in skillet. Turn heat down to low and add sour cream, mixing to blend thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve with knedlíky (dumplings).

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Clementinum

The second largest complex of buildings (after Prague Castle), the Clementium has had a long and fascinating history and includes some of Prague’s most interesting architecture. It began life as an 11th-century chapel to St. Clement and eventually became a Jesuit college for hundreds of years. In 1773, it was established as an observatory, library, and university by the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.

In the 20th century, the Clementinum was incorporated into the National Library system and it is home to more than five million books. (Ironically, during its time as a Jesuit college, about 30,000 “heretical” books were burned in one of the courtyards.)

The complex includes five courtyards, the St. Salvator Church, St. Clements Church, and the Italian Chapel. The complex is also home to the Mozart Hall, which houses some of Mozart’s original manuscripts. Visitors to the Clementinum can also visit the Baroque Library Hall, the home of the Czech National Library, with 20,000 books dating back to the 16th century. There’s also the Astronomical Tower; you can climb 172 steep steps to the top for amazing views of Prague. The music lover’s visit wouldn’t be complete without touring the Mirror Chapel, a gorgeous space with extensive frescoes, artwork, carvings, and (you guessed it) mirrors. The Chapel also has an 18th-century organ played by Mozart himself.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dvořák and His Wife

Dvořák married Anna Cermakova on November 17, 1873. They would be together until his death over forty years later, and had nine children, six of whom survived to adulthood. Yet Anna had not been his first choice. Initially, he had fallen for her sister Josefina, who was studying piano with him, but Josefina would not have him and married instead an aristocrat, becoming the Countess Kaunitz. However, all parties remained on good terms and Dvořák kept track of which of his compositions Josefina particularly liked, sometimes quoting their melodies in new works in tribute to her. Apparently, he thought she would appreciate the gesture, and perhaps also knew that Anna would not mind.

-Betsy Schwarm, long-time announcer/producer for KVOD and music professor

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dusicky

The Czech do not celebrate Halloween – at least not the way it’s celebrated in America. There are no children dressed as ghosts, knocking on doors and asking for sweets. Instead, the Czech people celebrate what many other cultures celebrate in the fall – a day to honor the deceased.

Interestingly, Halloween began as a harvest festival among the Celtic people – a group that likely originally settled in the land known today as the Czech Republic. They believed that was the day the lines between the worlds of the living and the dead were thinnest and that the spirits of the departed could walk among the living.

In the Czech Republic, November 2 is Dusicky, and is also called All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day, Day of the Dead, or Commemoration of All the Departed. That night, and in some cases several days leading up to it, Czech people all over the country visit graveyards to honor their dead. They come in droves, with flowers and candles and wreaths to decorate the grave markers of their ancestors.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Česnečka (Garlic Soup)

Garlic soup? I was skeptical, too – but I’m told it’s actually quite tasty. It’s a thinner soup and can be made with or without meat and served with fried bread cubes (I bet you could have dumplings if you wanted!).

Ingredients
-8 cups water or broth
-1 Tbs salt
-6 cloves garlic
-1 tsp marjoram
-4 slices of dark rye bread
-1 tsp caraway seeds, crushed
-2 medium potatoes, diced
-1 tsp fresh black pepper
-2 Tbs butter or lard
-2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped

Directions
1. Mash the garlic with the salt: do this either with a mortar and pestle, or use a garlic press to crush the garlic and then mix in the salt.
2. Place the garlic and salt in a large pot and add the water or broth. Slowly bring the water to a boil, reduce heat and keep on a simmer.
3. Add the crushed caraway seeds, potatoes, marjoram, butter or lard, and ginger.
4. Simmer, uncovered, till the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add freshly ground black pepper and some more salt if needed.
5. Fry the slices of bread in bacon drippings or butter till golden brown. Place a slice of bread in each soup bowl and ladle the garlic soup over it. Sprinkle on parsley.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Sedlec Ossuary

One of the creepiest places I’ve ever heard of is in Sedlec, a suburb of the Czech city of Kutná Hora: The Sedlec Ossuary.

The ossuary is part of the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist. Below the cemetery of the Church of All Saints is a small Roman Catholic chapel, the interior of which is completely decorated with human bones.

A cemetery was first founded here in the Middle Ages and became famous in 1278 when the abbot from Sedlec went on a diplomatic mission to the Holy Land under orders from King Otakar II. The abbot returned with a small handful of dirt from the hill where Christ is believed to have been crucified. He sprinkled the dirt in the cemetery and the place was soon known throughout Europe.

During the 14th century, it became necessary to enlarge the cemetery because of the plagues. By 1318, it’s estimated that 30,000 people were buried there. After 1400, the chapel was built in the middle of the graveyard. Under the chapel, the bones from abolished graves were arranged by monks. This continued until 1870 when a local wood carver named František Rint was employed by the ruling Schwarzenberg family to rearrange the bones in a more attractive manner.

Rint outdid himself. The ossuary now contains the remains of an estimated 40,000 people. Their bones cover the interior, arranged in decorative patters. Sometimes the bones are used to form planters, candelabras or coats of arms of the royal family. In one particularly gruesome feature, a chandelier hangs at the center of the ossuary. The chandelier contains every bone in the human body, delicately arranged in macabre patterns, using various bones to form creepy crystal-like patterns.



Visit the chapel’s website here: http://www.kostnice.cz/

-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dvořák and the Premiere of the New World Symphony

On December 17, 1893, the headlines of the New York Herald announced a monumental event. “Dr. Dvořák’s Great Symphony” it declared, and then continued for a full page, lauding the New World Symphony’s premiere. In the concert the night before with the New York Philharmonic and conductor Anton Seidl, the work had shared the program with Brahms’ Violin Concerto and selections from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, yet all attention was granted to the symphony. That such an important work had premiered in Carnegie Hall, not in Europe, particularly excited the editors. They seemed to imagine that Dvořák had composed it only for the pleasure of American audiences.

-Betsy Schwarm, long-time announcer/producer for KVOD and music professor

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Looking For a Good Ghost Story?

Like any culture, the Czechs have their share of ghost stories. In honor of Halloween, I did a little research and found a few particularly famous stories.

The Young Turk
This ghost is said to haunt the plaza of Tyn Court in Prague on the full moon. The Turk was a wealthy guard who fell in love with a beautiful, young blonde. He returned to his homeland to ask his parents’ permission to marry. His bride-to-be waited years without hearing from him and believed he had died or forgotten her. She fell in love with another man, but the Turk returned to Prague on her wedding night. In anger, he cut off her head but instantly regretted it; they say his ghost carries her head in a box.

The Begging Skeleton
Outside the Karolinum, the original building of Charles University, visitors swear they see a thin, tall ghost begging for money. According to legend, a university professor was fascinated by a taller-than-average student and offered him money for his skeleton after his death. Thinking it was easy money – after all, the professor was much more likely to die first – the student agreed. Later that night, the student was killed in a drunken brawl. It’s said that the ghost begs passer-by for money to buy his skeleton back.

St. John of Nepomuk
In the late 14th century, John took confession from Queen Johanna, King Wenceslas IV’s wife. The priest refused to tell the king what she said and was tortured and tossed off the Charles Bridge. His ghost was seen for almost 300 years after, until an artist was commissioned to carve statues of saints along the bridge. When the artist finished the statue of St. John, his ghost was never seen again. Local lore tells visitors that if they have a secret, touching the statue will ensure no one discovers it.

Perchta, the White Lady of Český Krumlov
This 15th-century noblewoman was forced to marry Jan von Lichtenstein, a violent and brutal man. Perchta was tormented by him as well as his mother and sister until a royal intercession allowed her to return home. She did not see her husband again until he lay on his deathbed, asking for her forgiveness. She refused, and he cursed her to roam the Český Krumlov castle forever. It is said that if she is smiling and wearing white gloves, good news will follow. If she looks serious and wears black gloves, however, bad tidings are coming.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kulajda (Dill Soup)

Kulajda, or dill soup, is a popular dish. Dill is used in many Czech dishes, along with parsley, caraway seeds and thyme. Dill soup is very rich and creamy, so it makes a perfect fall meal.

Kulajda Soup
Makes about 6 – 8 portions

Ingredients:
-8 cups vegetable stock
-1 pound of potatoes, diced
-4 – 5 cups of mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)
-1 cup of heavy cream
-1 cup of milk
-3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
-3 eggs, hard boiled, sliced
-1 cup of fresh dill, finely chopped
-3-4 Tbs of white vinegar
-1 Tbs of caraway seed
-salt

Instructions
1. Bring vegetable stock to boil and add potatoes.
2. After 10 minutes add sliced mushrooms, caraway seeds and salt.
3. Whisk flour into milk and cream and thru strainer slowly, while stirring it, pour into the boiling soup (you will see it thicken). On low heat boil for 5 more minutes, potatoes should be now tender.
4. Add more salt, chopped dill and take off the heat.
5. Finish the taste with vinegar.
6. Before serving, put small cube of butter on top and slices of hard boiled egg, serve with dark bread or sesame crisps.
7. Serve with bread or dumplings.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vysehrad Cemetery

Vysehrad Cemetery, which was built in 1869 on the grounds of Vyšehrad Castle in Prague, is the final resting place of many artists, writers, scientists and politicians. It is one of the most famous cemeteries in the Czech Republic and a number of famous Czechs are buried there, including writer Karel Čapek, composers Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, and artist Alphonse Mucha.

The cemetery, which has been carefully arranged and designed, also features a map to guide visitors to some of the most famous gravesites. The centerpiece of the cemetery is the Slavin Monument designed by Antonin Wiehl, the communal resting place of over 50 Czech artists and sculptors.

Another famous site is the grave of the Romantic poet Karel Hynek Macha. His headstone was the assembly point in November 1989 for the officially sanctioned demonstration that led to over 50,000 people attempting to march on Wenceslas Square before being stopped in Narodni.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Monday, October 18, 2010

Unhappily Ever After

In his memoir of his father, Otakar Dvořák recalls a family lunch in 1901 (Otakar was sixteen), when his father came to the table and declared that someone had died. "Who died?," everyone inquired. As Otakar tells it, Dvořák responded, “Well, she kissed him, so he had to die for this one kiss. This is the way it happened in the fairy tale.” Thus, the Dvořák family learned that Father had come to the end of his new opera Rusalka and that it was not the death of anyone they knew, just of a fairy tale prince who has been warned of the price of that kiss but must have it nonetheless.

-Betsy Schwarm, long-time announcer/producer for KVOD and music professor

Friday, October 15, 2010

Czech It Out: Druha Trava

It’s Friday, and Czech Mix is looking forward to the weekend! Kick off yours with a concert featuring Czech band Druha Trava tonight.

Druha Trava

Friday, November 15 at 9 pm
Sobo151  |  151 S. Broadway.
$10 at door

Druha Trava is a wonderfully individual band from the Czech Republic that is hard to describe. They perform new acoustic world music with bluegrass influences. You might hear them perform a bluegrass tune, Bob Dylan tune or one by another American or British artist, or one of their many originals. Though they basically use a typical bluegrass complement of instruments, you might see the banjo player also pick up a clarinet or Irish whistle. This along with the versatility of the dobro player helps create much of their unique sound. The Bluegrass Association of the Czech Republic declared Druha Trava "Group of the Year" in both 2005 and 2006.

Check out their website and hear sound clips here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dead Wet Girls

So were you as creeped out by the movie The Ring as I was?

I was curious what the word “rusalka” actually meant and went searching the Internet for a description.

Dvořák’s opera Rusalka is a bittersweet story of unrequited love—often described as a sad version of The Little Mermaid. The opera is truly beautiful and moving and was inspired by a Czech folk story.

But the original legend behind that folk tale is actually a little closer to that scary chick who crawls out of the TV in the movie The Ring than it is to sweet Ariel who cavorts with her pal Sebastian the Crab in the Disney film.

Before we go any farther, DO NOT WORRY: the opera is NOT some creepy horror movie or some weird director’s reinterpretation of the opera. (I can already hear my General Director’s heart beating faster as he reads this blog post.) Dvořák’s opera is safe in the hands of Opera Colorado and director Eric Simonson—it’s a beautiful and romantic masterpiece and Opera Colorado’s production will do the hauntingly beautiful “Song to the Moon” justice. I PROMISE.

Also, it’s true, Dvořák was inspired by this Czech folk legend, but he parted ways with the legend early on and took his inspiration more directly from Hans Christian Anderson than from some morbid Bohemian fantasy.

But in honor of Halloween, I thought it would be fun if I share some of the ooky details of the legend of the rusalki (plural for rusalka).

According to the good people at Wikipedia, the rusalka is an evil water creature specific to Slavic cultures. She’s similar to a mermaid, but she doesn’t have fins. The rusalka is the soul of a young woman or girl whose death came unnaturally or violently, due to the actions of an unfaithful lover. Transformed into a half-human creature living in lakes and ponds and streams, the rusalka can be freed from her cruel fate only when her death is avenged. With long reed-like hair and irresistible shrill laughter, a rusalka lures unsuspecting men into the water and drowns them.

In some versions of the myth, her eyes shine like green fire. Others describe the creature as having extremely pale and translucent skin and no visible pupils. Her hair is often perpetually wet—supposedly, if her hair dries out, she will die. (That’s the part that reminded me of The Ring… Shudder…)

Happily, this is October and we’re well past “Rusalki Week.” That’s the time of year in early June when the rusalki are supposed to be at their most powerful.

Spirits similar to the rusalki appear in other European mythologies, such as the Irish banshee (a female spirit who wails), the German nix (shape-sifting water spirits) and the Romanian lele (a female spirit that only appears at night).

Japanese cinema also has featured many similar spirits. (If you Google “Dead Wet Girls,” you actually get some really interesting articles.) In many Japanese horror films, ghosts are often accompanied by water. Long stringy hair is associated with symbols of madness or demonic possession.


In addition to the evil character of Samara from The Ring, for you video game fans out there, rusalka-like creatures have also appeared in video games such as Quest for Glory IV: Shadow of Darkness and Devil May Cry 4.
-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

Photo credit: Michal Daniels, Minnesota Opera.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bila Fazolova Polevka (Navy Bean Soup)

October’s a good month for soup! And the Czech people love their soups, so we’ll be adding soup recipes all through October. Check out this tasty addition:

Bila Fazolova Polevka (Navy Bean Soup)
-8 oz navy beans
-1 cup milk
-5 cups water
-salt
-2 carrots - diced
-1 pinch sugar
-1 small onion - chopped
-1 pinch pepper -- black
-10 ounces potatoes - cubed
-1 pinch thyme
-1 ounce lard
-1 tablespoon vinegar
-3 tablespoons flour
-1 garlic clove - crushed

1. Soak beans for several hours in cold water without salt. Add water, carrots, onion and potatoes. Cook slowly until tender. Sieve or puree with blender or food processor.
2. Prepare a roux from flour and lard, dilute with milk, and add to soup. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
3. Flavor with salt, sugar, pepper, thyme, vinegar, garlic.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Capuchin Monastery Catacombs

In honor of October and Halloween being just around the corner, Travel Tuesday will be taking you to some of the more macabre sights of the Czech lands. In Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic, you can find a Capuchin monastery with a large network of catacombs filled with mummies.

That’s right – mummies. Mummified monks, to be exact. The church was built in the 17th-century and the unique composition of the soil and dry air came together to create the perfect environment for natural mummification. While the monks never intended to preserve their fallen brothers, their vows of poverty and the catacombs’ climate led to an inexpensive and easy way to dispose of the deceased. This went on for 300 years, until at the end of the 18th century, Emperor Joseph demanded a more hygienic means of disposal.

Today, visitors to the catacombs can see about 150 bodies that were laid to rest before 1784, including monks, townspeople, and a few noblemen, including Baron von Trenck, a soldier, adventurer, gambler and womanizer. The Baron, while not an upstanding moral citizen, had bequeathed a lot of money to the monastery and was rewarded by being laid to rest in a glass coffin in his own room. (His thumb and head, however, have been stolen since his demise.)

The site isn’t for the squeamish. Bodies of monks rest directly on the floor and several, due to the mummification process, look as though they did not go peacefully. A grim reminder lies above an arched vault; part of the wall is inscribed, “As you are now, we once were, as we are now, you shall become."

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Friday, October 8, 2010

A sample of Bohemia in the Big Apple

If you’ve ever traveled to New York City, you know that some days the city can be a little too much hustle and bustle. Even if you’re on vacation, you may feel the need to escape your vacation when you’ve had too much of the Manhattan rat race.

On a recent trip to New York, I was seeking just such an escape. And New York is the city with something for everyone, so relief was just a short train ride away. Tucked away in a corner of Astoria, Queens, is one of the oldest European-style beer gardens in the United States. I was lucky enough to be there as The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden kicked off its centennial celebration.

During the 1800s, Czech and Slovak immigrants were making their way to the U.S. searching for a better life. Many settled in New York. In 1892, The Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria was formed with the mission of preserving traditional Bohemian culture in this new land. The society offered dramatic presentations, lectures, language lessons and more. It became a social hub for the community and in 1910 the Society laid the cornerstone for what would become the Bohemian Hall.

At one time, there were over 800 German and European-style beer gardens all over the city, three in Astoria alone. Today, The Bohemian Hall is the only historic hall and garden that survives. The facility was built on what was once farmland in the borough of Queens. First to be constructed was just a small hall, but soon a larger hall was added that also served as a gymnasium. By 1919, an outside beer garden had been completed—just in time for 10 years of prohibition. But those Czechs are tough and the beer garden survived and flourished.

The Benevolent Society still owns and maintains the garden, though now it is in the center of a vibrant urban neighborhood. It’s right next to the elevated train tracks, but once you step into the garden, it’s as if you’re in a different country and the city begins to melt away. (The beer probably helps with this process a little bit.)

In addition to a beer garden, the Society also maintains a Czech and Slovak school where language lessons are offered tuition-free. According to their website, lessons for school-aged children follow Czech and Slovak curriculum standards and also include other culturally-rich activities to help young people understand their heritage.

The main building is somewhat sprawling with lots of smaller rooms and a cozy bar as you enter. But step out into the spacious garden and you feel as if you’ve entered a rural landscape in Bohemia. The open-air space is shaded by large trees and a tent. Dozens of picnic tables are lined up end to end and you instantly make new friends by finding a spot among the other guests. A stage and a dance floor are at one end. The night I was there, the folklore group Zemplinčane SVOJINA was just tuning up for session of folk dancing. This was the beginning of the centennial celebration, so there was a special emphasis on traditional folk music. But the place also offers “80s Night” and other special events aimed at attracting younger patrons, so there’s always something for everyone.

However, even though the bar does offer weekly Ladies Nights, this place has much more of a family feel. Kids are welcome. Grandparents were enjoying themselves along with the grandkids when I was there.

The Bohemian Hall has an extensive menu of Czech and Slovak dishes. Czech entrees tend to range from $8 to $14 and most are filling platters of meat and potatoes.

They also offer a good selection of beers with an emphasis on traditional Boehemian selections. I sampled a Golden Phesant, my first Slovakian beer. It was somewhat darker and heartier than the light Budweis-style beers I have been sampling. Not as dark as something like Guinness, but definitely a shade or two darker than Czechvar or Pilsner Urquell (which are also available at Bohemian Hall).

Obviously, this place draws large crowds on summer weekends when all New Yorkers are seeking an inexpensive escape from the sweltering city, but if you ask me, it’s definitely worth a ride on the N train to enjoy this charming destination. Visit their website...

-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Czech Proverbs

You can tell a lot about what a culture values by its proverbs. In America, for example, we often say “Time is money” or “Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” These phrases show how Americans typically value a strong work ethic.

Here are some of my favorite Czech sayings that I've found:

Bez peněz do hospody nelez.
Don't go to the pub without money.

Bez práce nejsou koláče.
Without work, there are no koláče.

Co je doma, to se počítá.
What's at home, counts.

Dobrá rada nad zlato.
Good advice is better than gold.

Host do domu, Bůh do domu.
A guest in your home is like a God in your home.

Kdo jinému jámu kopá, sám do ní padá.
He who digs a hole for someone, will fall in it himself.

Trpělivost růže přináší.
Patience brings roses.

V noci každá kočka černá.
Every cat is black at night.

Vyhni se opilému, jakož i bláznu.
Avoid a drunkard as well as a fool.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Czech Soup for the Soul

There was a chill in the air this morning. As the days get shorter and the air turns cooler, when I think of food I start thinking: soup.

Soup is very important in Czech cuisine. There’s a Czech saying: “Soup forms the foundation of any meal.” Most Czech lunches start off with a first course of soup. So what makes Czech soup unique? It uses the ingredients common to the area, including carrots, potatoes, onions, parsley, onions, garlic, peppers and paprika.

A Czech cookbook will feature a variety of soups, including:
-Potato soup (bramboračka)
-Goulash soup (gulášová polévka)
-Tripe soup (dršťková polévka)
-Garlic soup (česnečka)
-Chicken noodle soup (kuřecí polévka s nudlemi)
-Beef soup with liver dumplings (hovězí polévka s játrovými knedlíčky)
-Sauerkraut soup (zelná polévka or zelňačka)
-Dill soup, made from sour milk (koprovka)
-Cream of mushroom soup (kulajda)

Hungry for soup now? Try this recipe:

Czech Potato Soup
-1/2 cup dried mushrooms or 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
-1 quart boiling water
-1 celery stalk
-1 large carrot, chopped
-1 medium onion finely chopped
-1/4 tsp. caraway seeds
-1/8 tsp. marjoram
-1 tsp. salt
-2 medium potatoes
-2 Tbls. flour
-2 Tbls. butter
-pepper to taste

1. Stir mushrooms into the boiling water, add celery, carrots, onion, caraway seeds, marjoram, salt and pepper and cook slowly for 1 hour.
2. Add potatoes and simmer 40 minutes more.
3. Make thickening by slightly browning flour and butter in skillet. Add to soup and bring to boil before serving.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rock Town

Rock climbers and nature lovers, get ready to plan your trip to Europe. In the northeastern part of the Czech Republic is a hidden oasis of sandstone formations Adršpach-Teplice Rocks, also known as the Czech “rock town.” It’s located near the villages of Adršpach and Teplice nad Metují.

A national nature reserve since 1933, this is a popular destination for rock climbers. The area features well-marked paths through pine forests and valleys where hikers can see waterfalls, hawks, and even Siberia.

That’s right – Siberia. There is a section of the reserve that is much cooler than the rest and has a variety of plants that typically grow at higher attitudes and lower temperatures.

With imaginative names for the rock formations like Giant’s Armchair, Sugar Cone, the Guillotine and Medusa’s Head, it’s no wonder this is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Though you do have to pay to get into the reserve, you’ll find it an amazing journey through nature.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Monday, October 4, 2010

Timeline: Dvořák and the Arts

Consider the following highly selective list of important landmarks in the arts during Dvořák’s lifetime:

- 1846: Adolph Sax patents the saxophone

- 1847: Emily Bronte publishes Wuthering Heights

- 1851: Herman Melville publishes Moby Dick

- 1853: Heinrich Steinway opens his piano factory in New York.

- 1862: Victor Hugo publishes Les Miserables

- 1869: Leo Tolstoy publishes War and Peace

- 1874: the first Impressionism exhibit in Paris

- 1875: Mark Twain completes The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (it’s published the next year)

- 1887: Arthur Conan Doyle (not yet Sir) publishes his first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet”

- 1888: Vincent Van Gogh paints Sunflowers

- 1889: World Exhibition in Paris (the first exposure for most of Europe to East Asian cultures, and the event for which the Eiffel Tower was built)

- 1898: HG Wells publishes War of the Worlds

Such a time it would have been to be an arts journalist!

-Betsy Schwarm, long-time announcer/producer for KVOD and music professor

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Come Dance the Polka With Me

Polka, a couples dance that originated in the nineteenth century, is actually from the Czech Republic – Eastern Bohemia, to be exact. Creation of the dance is generally attributed to one Anna Slezak, a peasant girl in Labska Tynice who supposedly invented the dance in 1834.

The name comes from the Czech word pulka, which means “half-step,” which refers to the rapid shift from one foot to the other. Polka is often thought to have originated in Poland; polka means “Polish woman” and the dance may have been named in honor of the Polish people who helped the Czech people during an unsuccessful revolution during Austrian occupation.

The polka, like kolache and other wonderful Czech creations, caught on fast. The dance made its way into the ballrooms of Prague shortly after its creation and caught on more broadly when a Prague dance teacher demonstrated the polka in Paris. Parisians fell in love with the new dance and the trend swept Europe and the United States.

One of the few dances created in the 19th century to survive, polka did see a brief decline around the time ragtime music and jazz were increasing in popularity. The dance, however, saw a revival after World War II when Polish immigrants to the United States adopted the polka as their "national" dance. It also became more popular from efforts of Lawrence Welk and other post-war bands.

Feel like dancing now? Watch a video on the basic steps of the polka and feel free to practice at home (we won’t tell!).


-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Devoted to Dumplings

Czech food isn’t for the faint of heart. While it has recently become lighter in fare and has more fruits and vegetables, traditionally the cuisine is hearty, heavy, and somewhat fatty – it’s meant to be filling after a hard day of work in the fields.

One of the Czech people’s most well-known foods is knedlíky, or dumplings. (How do you pronounce that?). The Czech Republic is the leading producer of pre-prepared dumplings, contributing to 95% of the world’s supply.

There are actually three types of dumplings. Houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings), which are wheat-based and are often served as a side dish alongside beef or pork with a thick sauce. The dumpling is cooked in cylindrical shapes and then cut into round slices, similar to our bread. They are sometimes made from stale bread rolls. Bramborové knedlíky (potato dumplings) are made much the same way, but are potato-based. They can often be served with duck. Ovocné knedlíky (sweet dumplings) are stuffed with fruit filling, like plums or apricots. In some areas, the fruits are coated with the dough and boiled, then served with butter and sugar. Fruit dumplings are often served as the main dish. Each region has its own special way of making dumplings. In the spa town of Karlovy Vary, the dough is made of left-over bread, egg and spices.

Houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings)
-2 eggs
-1/2 c. milk
-1 tsp. salt
-3 c. flour
-Pinch of baking powder
-4 slices white bread, cubed

1. Beat eggs, salt and milk in a large mixing bowl.
2. Sift flour with baking powder and add, gradually, to egg mixture.
3. Continue beating with a large spoon. The dough must be smooth and stiff enough to hold its shape.
4. Stir in bread cubes.
5. Shape dough with wet hands into an oblong roll (or make two rolls about 7" in length).
6. Have salted water boiling in a large kettle.
7. Drop in dumpling rolls.
8. Boil, covered, about 40 minutes.
9. Take out of water and slice with thread, to about 1/2" thickness.
10. Keep hot until ready to serve. Excellent with pot roast, roast beef, stew, etc.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Time Out for Prague

Czech Mix has been on vacation for a week, but we're back with Czech food, travel, history, culture and more!

Need a one-minute vacation? Check out this video from WatchMojo.com - beautiful video of the magical city and interesting factoids - it's better than a coffee break! (Better yet, grab some coffee and come back and watch. It's ok - we'll wait.)


Travel to the Czech Republic
Uploaded by MojoSupreme. - Exotic and entertaining travel videos.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing CoordinatorPhoto by Conor Glesner.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Telč: Stepping Into the Past

About 100 miles away from Prague is Telč, a charming town in Southern Moravia whose city center was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. The town is believed to have been founded in the 13th century as a royal water fort and was nearly destroyed in 1530 by a massive fire. But Telč’s destruction was also its revitalization; Zachariáš of Hradec, the local lord, moved to the town after the fire and was inspired by his trip to Italy and decided to rebuild the town in Renaissance style.


About 6,000 people live in Telč year-round, but more than 200,000 visitors see its beauty ever year. The town is known most for its Renaissance-style chateau and the medieval town square. The chateau was rebuilt by Zachariáš of Hradec on the site of an original Gothic castle. The chateau features wine cellars, chapels, libraries and ballrooms and visitors can take a guided tour. One of the more interesting parts to the chateau is the African Hall. The Leichtenstein-Podstatzký family who lived in the chateau during the early twentieth century were fond of trophies: there are dozens of crocodile, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, lion, leopard and buffalo hides decorating the walls.


The town square is an exquisite outdoor plaza surrounded by cafes, restaurants and shops. While this is standard for most plazas, each structure is an arcade-fronted townhome that are all roughly the same size. Each building, however, is individually decorated with unique designs and they are all very well-preserved, leading visitors to feel as though they’ve walked right into the past.



Want to learn more about Czech Point Denver? Send an e-mail to info@operacolorado.org and ask to be added to our Czech Point Denver e-mail list.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Thursday, September 16, 2010

St. Vitus

Last week I wrote about Prague Castle, which includes one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Prague, St. Vitus Cathedral.

Commissioned by Charles IV, construction on the cathedral began in 1344 and wasn’t full completed until 1929. It is the largest church in Prague and was the site of numerous royal coronations.

The Cathedral was built on the site of an original church that was consecrated to St. Vitus. The original church was built in 925 by the Duke of Bohemia, Wenceslas (yes, the one with the Christmas song named after him.) St. Vitus was chosen because King Henry I of Germany gave him the bones of one hand of St Vitus. Some speculate that Wenceslaus, wanting to convert his subjects to Christianity, chose a saint whose name sounds very much like the name of Slavic solar deity Svantevit.

But who was St. Vitus? According to legend, he was a 4th-century Sicilian who converted to Christianity when he was 12. Among his accomplishments, Vitus is said to have freed the son of the Roman Emperor from an evil spirit, but was sentenced to death when he refused to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Several tales tell of failed attempts – he was thrown to the lions, tossed in a cauldron of molten lead – but most stories say he was thrown into boiling oil. He has become the patron saint of dancers, artists, singers and entertainers – which makes him an especially appropriate saint for the culturally-inclined Czech people.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Potatoes in Prague

All right, I admit it. I’m not a full-blooded Czech. (Though the more I research Czech foods, the more I feel I’ve found my people.) Potatoes, for example. Who doesn’t love potatoes? Baked, fried, mashed…it’s not surprising that this ubiquitous food has became a staple of Czech cuisine.

With good reason – the tuber is high in fiber, Vitamin C and potassium and are relatively cheap and filling. (And did you know there are almost 4,000 different types of potatoes?)

Potatoes likely originated in Peru and historians believe Spanish sailors in the 16th-century brought the food back as stores for their trip and then planted the leftovers. However, the food did not become a widespread part of the European diet until the late 18th century.

Around that time, Prague was just coming out of a dark time. Protestant reformer Jan Hus’ efforts to fight the Catholic church led to years of fighting and virtual destruction of Prague. In the late 18th century, Emperor Joseph II decided to unify the city, leading to the National Revival of 1784, which led to a stronger national identity and renewed interest in science and cultural arts.
Now, I’m not saying that the widespread adoption of the potato ended the fighting.
But it makes you wonder…

Potato Pancakes (Bramborák)

This recipe makes large, thin potato pancakes that are crispy and nicely flavored with garlic. Potato Pancakes are served both with meals and as a snack in the Czech Republic. Makes 4 potato pancakes.

Ingredients:
-4 large potatoes
-1/4 cup milk
-1 clove garlic
-1 egg
-4 heaping tablespoons flour
-Salt
-Pinch of pepper
-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Instructions:
1. Peel potatoes and grate with a grater.
2. Heat milk until hot (be careful not to burn it).
3. Squeeze all liquid out of the potatoes with your hands and place them in large bowl.
4. Immediately add the hot milk to the potatoes and mix until combined. This prevents them from turning brown.
5. Finely mince the garlic or put through press and add to bowl.
6. Add the egg, flour, pepper and salt. Stir until all ingredients are combined. The consistency should be more like a thick batter than a dough. Add more milk if it is too thick, or more flour if it is too thin.
7. Heat oil in a non-stick skillet.
8. For each pancake, pour a ladle full of potato mixture into skillet and spead out until it is about 1/2 inch thick and 7 inches in diameter.
9. Cook on each side, turning only once, until golden brown.
10. Drain on paper towels.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

See Prague - Live!

Don't you wish you could be in Prague right now? I do! I'd love to be in Prague's historic city center, right in front of their beautiful Old Town Clock. I wish I could see the hourly parade of the mechnical saints built into the clock.

Oh, wait - I can be there virtually! Check out...PRAGUE CAM! Through the magic of the Internet (and a camera set atop the Grand Hotel Praha), you too can see Prague in real time. Just don't forget - they are 8 hours ahead so it'll be getting dark there in a little while!


-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eduard Hanslick

One of the most important musical figures of the late 1800s was born in Prague but was not himself a composer, though he’d had some composition training. Eduard Hanslick (1825 – 1904) was the most influential music critic of the day. Son of a Prague music teacher, young Hanslick first studied law before taking up music. For nearly fifty years, this native of Prague dominated the musical world in Vienna, making and sometimes almost breaking careers with his mostly conservative views. Although he couldn’t change Wagner, he could surely try, and those who earned his favor – Brahms and Dvořák amongst them – gave thanks for Hanslick’s informed commentaries. Over a century later, they still make for good reading.

-Betsy Schwarm, long-time announcer/producer for KVOD and music professor

Friday, September 10, 2010

Festival Italiano THIS Weekend!

Where will YOU be this Saturday and Sunday? Hopefully at the Belmar Italian Festival! Opera Colorado will be at the Festival on both days with a booth and will be providing some of the entertainment - some of our singers will be performing at noon and 3 pm on both days on the Torino Stage.

If you’ve never been, you’re missing out: there's wine, great Italian food, lovely gifts and flowers as well as chef demonstrations and live music. There's also a children's grape stomp!

Festival Italiano: Food & Wine Festival
Saturday and Sunday, 10am - 7pm
Belmar, Alameda Ave and Wadsworth Blvd

Opera Colorado's booth will be near the corner of Upham and West Alaska Streets, across from Dick's Sporting Goods.

It’s always a fun (and free) time, so be sure to come by and say hi!

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Beer, Guns and Money

If it weren’t for the Czech Republic, you couldn’t enjoy a Budweiser beer, dance the polka, or shoot a pistol.

Well, you probably could – but they might not be called the same thing. Our language has many words from other cultures, and more than you’d think come from this particular region of the world.

The Czechs, known for their beer, gave us the words Budweiser and pilsner. Budweiser is named for the beer-making city of Budějovice, which is called Budweis in German. Pilsner also comes from the name of the city of Pilsen, which derives from plz, the old Czech word for “damp.” (Just what you want to think of when you think of beer, right?)

Having spent a great deal of the region’s history being occupied by conquering nations, it’s almost surprising that the Czech language brought us pistol and howitzer. The term pistol came from píšťala, which originates from the Czech word “to squeak.” A howitzer (haufný) was a 15th century catapult.

Did you know that our very own dollar comes from Czech (in a somewhat roundabout way)? The Czech word tolar comes from Joachimsthaler, the German name for the place where silver coins were minted in the 16th century.

The polka, often thought to be a Polish dance, actually originated in Bohemia. The name is generally agreed to come from the Czech word půlka—literally, little half—a reference to the short half-steps featuring in the dance.

Robots were named by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R, after roboti, or “drudgery.”

The word nebbish, though it comes to American English via Yiddish, is thought to come from the Czech nebohý, or “poor."

Interestingly, there are a number of words in Czech that are spelled the same as English words – but mean something completely different. The Czech word pasta means “toothpaste,” lump means “villain,” police means “shelf,” and confusingly for American travelers, host means “guest.”

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Krazy for Kolache

Growing up in Texas, which has a sizable Czech population, there have always been kolaches (koh-LA-cheez). I didn’t know where this delicious pastry was from, and barely understood that I myself was of Czech descent. I just knew that some mornings, there was a warm, yummy pastry waiting for me.

In researching Czech food, I could hardly avoid dedicating an entire post to what has become in the US a symbol of the Czech people. Cities across America have Kolache Festivals, including cities in Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
If you’ve never had a kolache, you can pick one up at the Kolache Factory in Lakewood. They’re a square pastry with an indentation on the top for some type of filling – usually fruit or cheese. There’s also a meat-based kolache, which is a sweet roll wrapped around meat and cheese.

In Czech, koláče is actually plural; the singular form is koláč (koh-LAHCH). And koláče typically refers to any type of sweet cake.

If you’re feeling ambitious, I found a recipe for “authentic” kolache – if you try it, let us know how it turned out!

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tour Prague Castle

The Czech people love their castles. The Czech Republic is one of the countries with the highest density of castles in the world, and one of the largest castles in the world is Prague Castle, which covers more than 18 acres and includes the original castle as well as museums, gardens, churches, art galleries and a monastery.

Historians estimate that it was built around 880 AD by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty, but it wasn’t until the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV made the Prague Castle his residence in the 14th century that the castle truly became a symbol of the Czech people.

The castle has survived multiple fires, invasions, occupations and World Wars, but like the Czech people, still stands tall despite adversity. In its long history, the castle has expanded by rulers of the region and boasts a variety of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.

Many areas of the castle were recently made accessible to the public for the first time in history, including the Royal Garden, Ballgame Hall, the south gardens, or the Imperial Stables.

Today, the castle is the seat of the President of the Czech Republic and serves as the historical and political center for both city and state. A number of priceless art relics, historical documents, and the Czech Crown Jewels are stored here.

For pictures and more information, check out this website.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Dog Drank My Homework

Here it is at the last minute—Thursday night—and I still have to write my beer blog for Friday. Nothing like waiting until the last minute.

It’s actually harder than it looks. It is a school night after all, yet here I am, dear readers, sacrificing on your behalf and tracking down a Czech beer that I can sample and write something about it. Czech beers can be somewhat difficult to find, especially when you’re in a hurry because you just remembered that you’d promised to write this and here it is 9:00 at night you haven’t even started. This seems like the same pattern I had as a young student, except in those days I could usually talk my mom into typing my assignment for me.

Happily, a suitable selection was located and I can announce that this week’s beer selection is Czechvar Premium Czech Lager. (Given that I’m working on this at the last minute, can I just tell you how grateful I am that this beer doesn’t have any diacritical marks in the name?)

First I have to say that the color of Czechvar is absolutely beautiful, a rich yellow that is perfectly clear. The beer has a very clean smell—not a strong smell of fermentation, but just a light smell of yeast. It sort of reminded me of fresh bread. (Okay, this writing assignment isn’t going to be so bad after all.)

The beer is also very smooth with just a slight hint of pleasant bitterness at the end. The beer has a very lightly spiced flavor to the finish—maybe just a slight hint of clove. This beer has a very full body that I like quite a bit. I’m also glad to report that this beer was only sold in a six pack so on Friday night when we’re grilling steaks to start the holiday weekend we will have a beer that I think will be a perfect match for the food. I taste a certain amount of butter-like richness in this beer and I think it will hold up well with the beef.

Czechvar definitely has a lot more heft to it than a typical American beer, such as, say…Budweiser. This is interesting because Czechvar might be considered the original Budweiser. In fact, the beer is sold under the brand name “Budweiser Budvar” in Germany and Austria.

Czechvar, as it’s known in the U.S. and Canada, or Budejovický Budvar, as it’s known in many other countries, is brewed in České Budéjovice, a city in south Bohemia that is famous for, along with its beer, its Baroque buildings and for having the largest public square in Europe. The region’s German name is Budweis. This is why in Europe the beer has been known for many years as Budweiser—from the region of the Budweis.

The company that brews the beer has been in a battle with the Anheuser Busch company over the rights to the name Budweiser for more than a century. However the battle recently came to a head when Anheuser Busch, the world’s largest brewer, applied for an EU license to market their beer in Europe under the Budweiser trademark. The Czech company challenged this request. The legal battle began in 1996 and lasted for 13 years until the European Union rejected Anheuser Busch’s claim. The American version of Budweiser can still be sold in select European markets under the name Budweiser, but it is not allowed to sell it in at least four EU member states under that brand name because the name is already owned by the Czech brewery. By the way, the EU Court didn’t allow the American beer to go simply by “Bud” either—no fooling those Europeans!

So there you have it, a perfect example of how a simple task can escalate into something larger than you had ever anticipated. I started out just wanting to write about a beer and ended up in a European legal battle over trademark rights. Next time I’ll try to get a little more ahead of the game and get my beer tasting in earlier. After all, I really can’t write this on Friday morning at work. Beer is not just for breakfast anymore.

P.S. Here’s an article that I think highlights more of the subtle differences between U.S. beer culture and how the Europeans view it: read this article about deep fried beer at the Texas State Fair and enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It Came From the Czech Republic

Pop quiz! Do you know where the term “robot” came from? (I’ll give you a hint – remember what blog you’re reading.)

The word “robot” – much like soft contact lenses – was invented in the Czech Republic. The word comes from the Czech robota or robotnik, which means drudgery or hard work. The word first appeared in Karel Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R. (short for Rossum’s Universal Robots).

When he originally conceived of the idea, Capek asked his painter brother Josef what he should call these lifelike automatons. Capek originally came up with calling them labori, his brother suggested using roboti instead.

The play features robots that are so lifelike they could be mistaken for humans and could think for themselves. (Capek was definitely ahead of his time.) Originally happy to be servants to humans, the robots eventually rise up and the human race becomes extinct.

This idea isn't too far from the legend of the Golem of Prague. A golem is a human-like creature created from clay, and it’s said that in the late 16th century, the chief rabbi of Prague created a golem to defend the Jewish ghetto. According to legend, the golem fell in love and was rejected, and then became violent, even turning on its own creator.

Who knew that this theme, echoed in so many literary works, including Frankenstein, can be traced back in part to that region of the world? And think how many times popular culture references robots. Instead of Robby the Robot from the TV show Lost in Space, he might very well have been called Labby the Labor.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Morning, Noon and Night

One of the differences between cultures that I find most interesting is how they approach food and meals. While Czech cuisine has certainly been influenced by other cultures – you’ll certainly see pizza and Chinese restaurants – and healthier substitutes have recently become more popular in urban areas, the country’s traditional foods remain distinct.

Before beginning a meal with Czechs, you’ll often hear them say “Dobrou chut’!,” which means "Bon appetit" or "Hope it tastes good!"

A typical Czech breakfast consists of buttered bread or kolache (those delicious fruit-filled pastries) as well as cheese, eggs, and ham and sausage. A few generations ago, it was common to have a mid-morning snack, though that practice seems to have declined in recent times.

Lunch is the most important meal of the day in the Czech Republic. It is the heaviest meal of the day and often includes soup as a starter course. A traditional Czech lunch may include dumplings, goulash, fried cheese and mushrooms, and plenty of meat. A favorite meal found among the Czech people is pork with dumplings and cabbage. It’s common for beer to be had at lunch – not surprising from a country well-known for their spirits.

Dinner is a more casual affair than lunch. A much lighter meal, it often consists of open-faced sandwiches called chlebičky or a tray of meats, cheeses and vegetables. It is, however, common for Sunday dinners to be more similar to a heavy lunch and is a way for families to spend time together.

Czechs have quite the sweet tooth, and there are sweet shops found all over the country. These shops serve coffee and tea as well as creamy marzipan, luscious cakes, and palačinky (crepe-style pancakes.) As lunch is such a filling meal, desserts are often eaten in the late afternoon or after a light dinner.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Relax and Refresh in Karlovy Vary

Do you need a vacation? Perhaps something relaxing and soothing? (Don’t we all!) Never fear – I have the answer! Karlovy Vary, the world-famous spa town in the Czech Republic. Located about 80 miles west of Prague, this is truly a “hot spot.” The town is built around thermal springs believed to have healing properties. (And you can impress your friends at your next get-together by knowing that the therapeutic use of baths is called balneology.)

The city is named for the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who – in addition to having the longest royal title ever - founded the city in 1370. Legend says it was founded when the Emperor was hunting deer in the woods when one of his hounds fell into one of the hot springs. (Poor puppy!) The Emperor noticed the hound seemed…well…healthier, and jumped right into the spring himself. A short soak in the water convinced Charles that the waters had helped heal an old leg injury, and he decreed that a town should be built around the healing springs.

Since then, the city has seen a never-ending stream of well-known visitors, including Peter the Great, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Fryderyk Chopin. Today, celebrities from all over the world visit Karlovy Vary not just for its springs, but for the charm and beauty of the historic town.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Monday, August 30, 2010

Moldau vs. Rusalka

Music Monday gives us a comparison of two well-known Czech works: Smetana’s The Moldau and Dvořák's Rusalka.

Best known of all Czech-inspired compositions is Smetana’s The Moldau, an orchestral journey along the course of Bohemia’s national river. Interestingly, several of its scenes have parallels within Dvořák’s opera Rusalka, which is the heart of our Czech Point Denver project. With assertive French horns, Smetana imagines hunters along the river. Dvořák also crafts a hunting scene, when the prince finds Rusalka, and he, too, uses horns.

In another scene, Smetana imagines water nymphs bathing in the river, evoked by woodwinds and harp. Dvořák’s opera is packed with water nymphs – principally the title character – and often portrays them with those same instruments. Both compositions also have wedding scenes, though Smetana’s is a country wedding and Dvořák’s is royal. It seems both composers were drawing on central elements of Czech culture.

-Betsy Schwarm, long-time announcer/producer for KVOD and music professor

Photo credit: The Wood Sprites in Rusalka. Jeffrey Dunn, Boston Lyric Opera.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Afternoon Club

"To beer! The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems"
-Homer Simpson

The other day, my distinguished colleague was excited because she got to write about fried cheese for this blog. Well, after a long week, I’m excited that I get to write about beer.

The Czech Republic has a long and distinguished history of beer making. It is believed that beer production began in the region as long ago as 859 BC. Part of this had to do with the fact that exceptionally fine hops thrived in the region. In the 13th century, King Wenceslas (the one of Christmas carol fame) convinced the Pope to revoke the ban on brewing beer in the region. The king also took action to protect the production of hops by banning the export of the hops plants so that the Slavs would retain their corner on the market.

One of the centers of hops production was the town of Žatec, a town approximately 100 miles northwest of the city of Prague. Hops have been grown there at least since the year 1004. Beer has been brewed there in some form or another since that time. Because of its hops production, Žatec was regarded as a wealthy, Royal town for many years. Hops are and were big business there. Official designations and regulations have continued there since the days of King Wenceslas and continue today. As recently as May 8, 2007, the European Union has protected hops from the region with the Protected Designation of Origin status of Žatecky Chmel.

According to Wikipedia: “Nearly all beer brewed in the Czech Republic is lager. This varies in color from pale (Světlé), through amber (Polotmavé) and dark (Tmavé) to black (Černé).” The four basic categories of beer spelled out by Czech law include lehké - a "light" beer brewed below 8°, výčepní - "tap" beer, though it can be bottled, brewed between 8° and 10°, ležák - "lager" beer, brewed between 11° and 12.99° and speciál - "special" beer, brewed above 13°.

The cornerstone of the current site of the Žatec brewery was laid in 1800 inside the town’s castle walls. For years the beer was regarded as one of the finest in Bohemia. During the years of Communist rule, the quality and availability of the beer declined greatly. By the late 1990s, the beer was barely available inside the Czech Republic, much less available abroad.

However in 2001, a Czech businessman bought the brewery and began revitalizing Žatec’s great traditions. Today, the beer is once again created in the old lagering tanks originally installed in 1835 - this takes place 80 feet underground, guaranteeing the ideal cold brewing conditions. The process takes 45 days. All carbonation comes from the natural fermentation process. The brewery does not use CO2 to create those bubbles. The beer uses home grown hops, Moravian malt and local water. The beer is now available throughout Europe and is being brewed for export. It can be found locally at many specialty retailers and bars specializing the imported beers.
There’s much more information available on this history and process of Žatec beer available at their website. Additional information about the city of Žatec and the surrounding region is available at this website.

So fine, what does it taste like?

I’m not an expert - I’m trying to drink a beer and frantically copy stuff off the internet after all - but based on what I’ve read, I would say that this beer would qualify as a Světlé or a light beer. It has a very light and refreshing taste - perfect for the warm summer evening when I’m enjoying it. There’s no bitterness. The company’s website describes the taste as “fruity” and I would agree with that. I could imagine this beer going well with a dessert made of baked apples or plums. I don’t mean to say that the beer is sweet - it’s not. But that warm comforting type of food would compliment the beer very well. I could also see it being a great match with a sweet, smoky barbecue sauce. The beer is very rich and well-rounded - but not heavy. The beer went very well with the pizza I had for dinner. Definitely worth the time to seek it out and give it a try, I would say.

There’s a lot more information about Czech beer at this helpful website.

-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cooler than a postage stamp...

When I was a little girl, either my father or my grandfather showed me a stamp with the picture of a man on it. Underneath his picture was his name, Vančura, which just also happens to be my name. My father, or my grandfather, explained to me that this was a distant relation and that he happened to be a well-known Czech author. When I first heard about Czech Point, I realized that I had to do some research on this man.

His name, it turns out, is Vladislav Vančura, and he was born on June 23, 1891 in the small town of Háj, near Opava, Moravia to a middle-class family of Protestant noble descent. In 1905, he moved to Prague to attend school but struggled with the discipline and rigidity of the traditional schools. It would take the help of a private tutor before he could graduate and move on to University.

In 1915, Vladislav entered the Faculty of Law of Charles University in Prague, but switched to studying medicine one year later. It would be at University that he would meet his future wife, Ludmila 'Lida' Tuhá, a student of medicine herself. In 1921, Vladislav and Lida graduated from the university and opened up a surgical practice in Zbraslav.

Since his late teens, Vladislav had been writing short stories, novels, and reviews, and in 1929, he would devote himself completely to writing. He favored characters that acted, and in a time when many books featured introspective characters and plots driven by thought, offered little direct insight into his characters’ motivations. What made Vladislav’s writing so unique, however, was his use of language. He combined an ancient style of Czech, found in a Czech translation of the Bible from the 16th century, with modern colloquialisms. His style is so unique, in fact, that it has actually made translations into other languages incredibly difficult.

Throughout his life, Vladislav was an on and off again member of the Communist Party, and in 1939, in response to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, he joined the underground Communist resistance. In May 1942, Gestapo arrested Vladislav, and later that month, he was killed as part of Hitler’s response to the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

So there it is, and a heck of a lot cooler than a stamp. Vladislav has a fairly descent English Wikipedia article, but most of the information I was able to find on him came from English translations of Czech websites. Both Summer of Caprice and The End of the Old Times have been translated into English, and are currently available at Amazon. So check Vladislav out, and immerse yourself in some Czech culture.

-Liz Vancura, former Opera Colorado Education intern

In other cultural news, Czech Mix just saw that playwright and former Czech president Vaclav Havel just completed on-location filming on the movie adaptation of his stage drama Leaving - read the article here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Those Cheesy Czechs

It’s mid-afternoon, and I feel like having some cheese. That’s because in researching today’s entry on Czech cuisine, I was inspired by the love of cheese shared by the people of the region. Being quite the cheeseophile myself, I was curious what Czechs consider delicious when it came to cheese.

The Czechs do have specific cheeses native to their region and you haven’t lived until you’ve tried Olomouc cheese, a type of aged cheese from the Moravian region. Quite aromatic and flavorful, cheesemakers in the small town of Loštice have been making it since the 15th century. Known as the “Guttery Breath of the Knight of Lostice,” the cheese is so ingrained in the country’s history that when the European Union tried to outlaw it, The Czech government asked for special permission to keep it.

Much of the Czech people’s love of cheese comes in the form of specific recipes that center around cheese. Here are a few types I was particularly intrigued by…

Nakládaný hermelín
Hermelin is a soft cheese that comes from the same family as Camembert. You marinate the cheese with peppers, onions, garlic and oil. It’s commonly served in bars and can be deep fried.

Pivní sýr
Beer cheese! This is a soft cheese that’s soaked in beer until it’s soft. It’s usually mixed with onions and mustard. It’s often served spread on bread or toast.

Smažený Sýr
By far my favorite of the cheese recipes. You take a slice of cheese – perhaps Edam, Camembert or Hermelin – and coat it in bread crumbs, then fry in oil. It’s served with tartar sauce and potatoes. I even found a recipe for it! I haven’t tested it myself yet, so if you try it at home, you can’t call us and say it wasn’t tasty.

Smažený Sýr (Fried Cheese)
Serves 2

Ingredients
-2 slices Edam or other soft cheese, each 1/3 inch thick
-1/4 cup flour
-1 cup breadcrumbs
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-vegetable oil for frying

Directions:
1. Dip cheese slices into flour to form a light coating on all surfaces.
2. Dip each slice into lightly beaten egg and coat completely.
3. Dip each slice into breadcrumbs and coat completely, pat crumbs onto any areas that are not coated.
4. Pour oil into deep frying pan to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat to 375 degrees F.
5. Carefully place slices in pan and fry on one side for about 20 - 30 seconds, or until golden-brown
6. Turn and fry on the other side for another 20 - 30 seconds until golden brown.
7. Serve with tarter sauce, boiled potatoes and salad.

Enjoy!

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator