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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Visit the Estates Theatre

If you’re looking for a good place to take in some culture, you’ll want to check out one of Prague’s most well-known theaters, the Estates Theatre. The Theatre began its life in the late 18th century. At the time, theaters were cropping up all over Europe and people felt the arts should be accessible to everyone.

The Theatre was originally known as Count Nostitz’s Theatre and took less than two years to construct. It’s build in the Neoclassical style, which strives for symmetry, simplicity, and columns. (Like ancient Greek temples, but slightly more modern.)

Like the Czech Republic itself, the Theatre has undergone several name changes and owners, but has always retained its sense of self. It’s actually one of the few theaters in Europe that still looks the way it did when it was built.

It was home to a number of plays and operas and Czech works, including the first Czech modern opera (František Škroup’s The Tinker), and the premiere of the song “Where is my home?” (Kde domov můj), which later became the Czech national anthem.

Mozart certainly liked the Theatre – he conducted the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni here and staged his La Clemenza di Tito in public here for the first time in celebration of the coronation of Emperor Leopold II. Fun fact: this is actually the only theatre left standing where Mozart performed.

True to its association with Mozart, the Estates Theatre was used in the Oscar-winning film Amadeus. The Czech director, Milos Forman, shot the scenes of Mozart in Prague at the Estates Theatre for authenticity.

So if you're planning a trip to Prague, make sure you set aside some time for this amazing building.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Monday, August 23, 2010

A little background information about RUSALKA

Opera Colorado is very excited to be producing the opera Rusalka. As far as we can tell, this will be the very first production of Rusalka in the Rocky Mountain region.

But truth be told, Rusalka is a rarely performed opera anywhere. It was first performed in Prague in 1901, but was rarely seen, even in its own country, for many years.

Gustav Mahler, then head of the Vienna Opera, was a fan of the work, but even with a champion like Mahler, the opera was not performed in Austria until 1924, twenty years after Dvořák’s death.

The first performance of Rusalka in England wasn’t until 1959. The first performance of the opera at New York’s Metropolitan Opera wasn’t until 1993. Singers such as Renee Fleming have been major advocates for the opera. Opera Colorado’s leading lady Kelly Kaduce, who will sing the title role here in Denver, won the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions in 1999 by singing “The Song to the Moon” from this opera.

The sets and costumes for Rusalka were originally created by Minnesota Opera in cooperation with Boston Lyric Opera. It debuted in Minnesota in 2008. Minnesota Opera Artistic Director Dale Johnson created this short preview of the opera that gives a great sense of what the opera will look like.



-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Afternoon Club

It’s Friday afternoon and I don’t know about you, but I could use a beer.

But what beer should I drink?

When considering this important question, a look towards the Czech Republic and its long history of beer making is probably a good option to consider.

Beer making in the Bohemian and Czech region goes back over a thousand years. The Czech Republic has the highest per-capita beer consumption rate in the world. While there are many major breweries in the region, two cities are very much associated with beer making: Plzeň and České Budĕjovice. You might recognize these cities better by their German names: Pilsen and Budweis.

If you would like to learn more about how to best judge a beer, spend some time at beeradvocate.com. When reviewing a beer, the beer advocates believe that it’s most important to take into consideration the appearance, smell, taste, mouth-feel and drinkability of your beer. But before you can really judge a beer by any of these criteria, you first need to understand the style of the beer and beer maker’s intent.

The classic Czech Pilsner is one major style of beer making. Here’s what beeradvocate.com has to say on the subject:

“The birth of Pilsner beer can be traced back to its namesake, the ancient city of Plzen (or Pilsen) which is situated in the western half of the Czech Republic in what was once Czechoslovakia and previously part of the of Bohemian Kingdom. Pilsner beer was first brewed back in the 1840's when the citizens, brewers and maltsters of Plzen formed a brewer's guild and called it the People's Brewery of Pilsen.

”The Czech Pilsner, or sometimes known as the Bohemian Pilsner, is light straw to golden color and crystal clear. Hops are very prevalent usually with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavor and aroma, notably one of the defining characteristics of the Saaz hop. Smooth and crisp with a clean malty palate, many are grassy. Some of the originals will show some archaic yeast characteristics similar to very mild buttery or fusel (rose-like alcohol) flavors and aromas.”

Earlier, the city of Budweis came up. To American beer lovers, that name may sound familiar. According to the Anheuser Busch website, Adolphus Busch first arrived in the U.S. in 1857 and with his father-in-law to spark an American revolution in beer making by introducing Bohemian style beer to a thirsty public. Eventually young Adolphus wanted to create a truly American beer. But the roots of that taste come from the Bohemian and Bavarian countryside.

So the next time you crack open a Budweiser, take a moment to consider the description of the Czech Pilsner outlined above. How does it compare?

On coming Fridays, I know I will be craving more beers. It should be fun seeking out authentic Czech beers and giving them all a taste.

But in the meantime, this Bud’s for you.

-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Father of Art Nouveau

You’ve seen pictures like this before: gorgeous artwork featuring beautiful women with flowing hair advertising beer, liquors and cigarettes. What you may not know is many of these were designed by the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha.

Mucha, who has been called “the father of Art Nouveau,” spent most of his life painting and learning to paint until his big break came in his mid-thirties, when he happened to stumble into a print shop in Paris. The print shop desperately needed a poster for a play starring Sarah Bernhardt, who was the most well-known actress in Paris at the time. Mucha volunteered his services, and in two weeks, the advertisement premiered and was an overnight sensation. Bernhardt herself loved the poster so much she went on to do many other projects with Mucha.

Mucha became synonymous with the Art Nouveau style, really helping to pioneer it. (Ironically, Mucha often tried to distance himself from what he felt was his “commercial” work, opposed to the more “artistic” works he longed to create.) Mucha’s paintings featured strong, beautiful women in flowing robes with lush flowers encircling their heads. His paintings used pastel colors, a sharp contrast to the bold colors that were in style at the time. Mucha’s popularity was so great that when Czechoslovakia won its independence after World War I, Mucha designed the new postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents. However, his paintings began considered “reactionary,” and when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Mucha was arrested by the Gestapo and fell ill with pneumonia during his interrogation. He died shortly after his release.

Despite being known for his advertisements, Mucha spent more than a decade working on The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej), a series of 20 immense paintings depicting the history of the Czech and the Slavic people. (See them here.) Mucha considered them his life’s greatest achievement and they were on display for a number of years, until they were buried to hide them from Nazi art thieves during World War II. The pictures remained in hiding during Czechoslovakia's communist occupation, and has only recently been on display in a château in the small town of Ivanice. Prague is currently working on bringing the work to the capital. (Read more here...)

From other artists to architecture to jewelry to CD covers, the father of Art Nouveau’s contribution to the art world is immeasurable, and his style has influenced almost every area of the visual arts. His legacy continues to live on, and he was honored with a Google Doodle in memory of his 150th birthday in July of this year.



-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Yummy in My Tummy

As the clock creeps closer to noon, my thoughts naturally turn to food. Czech food, in particular. In researching Czech culture, I found out that the Czech people love sweets. They love fruit dumplings, made with plums and cheese and bread crumbs. They love koláče, small cakes filled with sweetened cheese or fruit preserves. There’s bábovka, a semisweet cake, and apple strudel.

I have found my people.

And I have found a recipe for Vanilla Crescents, a yummy Christmas traditional treat that some say was a favorite of former president Vaclav Havel.

Vanilla Crescents

The recipe makes about 36 cookies.

Ingredients

· 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
· ½ cup sugar
· 2 cups all-purpose white flour, sifted
· 1 1/14 cup ground almonds
· 1 tsp vanilla extract
· Powdered sugar
  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Blend in the flour ½ cup at a time, then add the almonds and vanilla extract.
  3. Beat until the mixture becomes slightly stiff.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for about an hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil two cookie sheets or use nonstick cookie sheets.
  6. Tear off tablespoon-sized chunks of the dough and place them on a floured working surface. Roll each one into a strip about 2 inches long and shape them into crescents.
  7. Place the crescents about ½ inch apart on baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
  9. Let cool for five minutes, then dust with powdered sugar.
I may have to make these tonight…in the meantime, I wonder where you can get some good koláče around here…

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Travel to Prague via YouTube

There are very few travel writers who capture my imagination like Rick Steves. There’s just something about how he presents European travel that makes me want to pack up and go. International travel can seem intimidating at first, but Rick explores both Europe’s most popular destinations as well as hidden gems you would never know about on his popular television program “Rick Steves’ Europe,” seen statewide in Colorado on Rocky Mountain PBS.

Rick also publishes wonderful travel guides and has a great website, http://www.ricksteves.com/. I should say right here that I’ve never met Rick Steves, but that’s the kind of writer he is; he makes you feel at ease and as if you’re getting great advice from a trusted friend. I can personally testify that Rick’s guide books are terrific. I had the best time in France a couple of years back thanks to Rick’s books. His Podcast was an invaluable walking tour of Parisian highlights that started at Notre Dame and took me through the Latin Quarter and back and forth across the Seine.

Rick has many great videos online, including this one that gives a quick overview of Prague and some of its most popular landmarks, including the Charles Bridge - watch it now:



-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

Monday, August 16, 2010

Welcome to Czech Point Denver!

I was having coffee with a friend this past weekend and talk turned to work. I mentioned that Opera Colorado would be performing our first Czech opera this coming season, Rusalka by Antonìn Dvořák.

My friend is very well-traveled and a musician with an above-average knowledge of classical music. Yet her immediate response to this news was: “Dvořák wrote an opera?”

Her reaction is really not all that surprising. While Rusalka is probably Dvořák’s most popular opera (he wrote ten in all), the opera is unfamiliar to many opera fans.

In fact, much of Czech culture is unfamiliar to many Americans. As I began to learn more about Rusalka and Dvořák, I began to explore other aspects of Czech culture. And as I learned more, I was constantly saying to myself, “I didn’t know that!”

Prague has been a world capital for nearly 1100 years. Czech and Bohemian culture is staggering in its richness and complexity. Throughout much of modern history, Czech artists have been making major contributions to literature, music, architecture, the visual arts, film and more. Many of the world’s great cultural movements had their beginnings in Prague.

As Opera Colorado prepares to present our first Czech opera, we decided we’d like to explore and celebrate this fertile cultural landscape. Czech Point Denver is the result.

Czech Point Denver will be a city-wide celebration of Czech arts and culture scheduled for January and February 2011. The festival is spearheaded by Opera Colorado and is a cooperative project of several Denver arts organizations, including the Denver Art Museum, The Colorado Symphony and Buntport Theater, among others. Events will include film screenings, lectures, concerts, performances and interactive arts activities. We’re also creating opportunities to engage students with each of the partner organizations. By the time the curtain comes down on Rusalka next February, we hope to have cooperatively helped create many “aha moments” as our audiences explore Czech culture and this remarkable opera with us.

Regular updates about the project will be available through this blog and our website, http://www.czechpointdenver.com/. If you’d like, you’re also welcome to sign up for e-mail updates. We’re also setting up a Facebook fan page and establishing a Twitter feed. We’re engaging some great writers who can help us explore many different Czech-related topics online.

In the meantime, here’s a taste of this beautiful opera. Opera Colorado’s production will star soprano Kelly Kaduce in the title role. Kelly has been featured on the cover of Opera News several times in the past few years. She also created the role in the production Opera Colorado will present. But perhaps you’ve never heard any music from Rusalka. Enjoy this link to Renee Fleming, one of the opera’s great champions, performing the most famous aria from Rusalka, “The Song to the Moon.”



-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing