Slavic Epic, Smetana Museum and the Opera

Yesterday (Saturday) I hopped the tram #17 and made my way to the Veletrzni Palace to see the exhibit of Mucha’s Slavic Epic. I learned of this amazing works of art when I visited his museum last Wednesday.  It has recently been put on display here in Prague, under much controversy, for the next two years and I am so very, very glad I got to see it.  From what I can gather, there is controversy over who has ownership over the paintings and where they should be displayed.

If I understand it correctly, Mucha gave the twenty, larger-than-life, canvases to the city of Prague after they were completed in 1928.  It took him 18 years to complete!  When giving the gift, he stipulated that the city needed to build an exhibit hall for the works.  That was not done and after the war, for safe keeping, the canvases were moved to Moravian town of Moravsky Krumlov.  The people of Moravsky Krumlov feel that they should have the art since it is near where Mucha was born.  Add to the mix, Mucha’s heirs feel that they are entitled to ownership.  Whatever the outcome, I am grateful they were in Prague so I could enjoy them.

I won’t go into all the details of the various canvases.  What I realized as I read the description from the printout and looked from canvas to canvas, is how little of the Slavic history I really know.  Mucha’s first canvas started with the origin of the Slavic world…the Adam and Eve and ended with his last canvas summarizing the entire history and hope for the future of the Slavic people.  All the canvases were full of symbolism and thank goodness for the guide that they gave me with my ticket!

After going through the exhibit, I hopped on the tram and made my way back to the Old Town and the Smetana museum.  Smetana is a famous Czech composer born in 1824.  I first was introduced to his music 35 years ago when I first visited Prague.  Die Moldeau, which he wrote about the Vlatava River that flows through Prague, is one of my favorite classical pieces.

Peter, Larry and I accidentally discovered this museum one cold day while we were walking through the streets of Prague.  Back then, it was a small exhibit but it was one of the most memorable parts of our trips.  A couple of years ago, the three of us; and our spouses, met in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for a reunion.  We spent a great evening reminiscing about our trip and when we started discussing Prague, we unanimously agreed that our museum visit was one of our best memories from the whole trip.  What made it so memorable was the little man who was our tour guide.  He couldn’t speak English but spoke in German, which Larry translated for us.  Even without understanding his words, it was his eyes that spoke volumes.  He spoke of Smetana’s struggles in his life and then he spoke of the stuggles of his homeland.  He had lived through much of it – the independence of his country, the World Wars, the takeover by the Soviets and yet, in his eyes, we saw hope – hope that his country would one day be free.  I don’t know if he was still alive in 1989 but I truly hope so.

Today, the museum is still in the same location. It is surrounded by restaurants that weren’t there in 1977.  Of course, the museum has been updated and copies of original papers are behind laminated displays.  I believe that we saw the originals.  What I remember are several glass display tables, so I think that it was the originals on display at that time.

What I wanted most was to hear the music of Die Moldeau and look out the window at the river as it played.  This was how our little guide ended the tour for us 35 years ago.  I did get to have this experience again.  As I stood there listening to the music, the memories came back.  Of course, it wasn’t the same, but I am glad that I went.

The day was topped off with the Opera Carmen at the State Opera House.  It was a wonderful!  The singers were so good. Plus, an added bonus, not only was it translated in Czech but also, English! I had never had the pleasure of seeing Carmen performed and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

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