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