Music and Magic in Prague

Music and Magic in Prague
Vivien Devlin

?The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different. If this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?? J. B. Priestley

Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, is an enchanting place to be in midwinter especially around Christmas and New Year – crisp white snow underfoot, the colourful Christmas Market in the Old Town Square and a traditional festive atmosphere all create a romantic setting.

I have visited Prague in a heat wave in April, a sunny weekend in September and also during the frosty first week in January. This is when the city celebrates its love of music with a world class festival, Prague Winter - a truly exciting and magical time of year to visit, far away from the madding summer crowds.

Prague, in any season, is a magnificent city, the "Jewel in the Crown" of Central Europe and ancient capital of Charles IV's Bohemian Kingdom. Prague is famed for its outstanding architecture from the Gothic Baroque and Romanesque periods to the more modern Belle-Epoque and Art Nouveau. The city centre has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site. No wonder this offers the ideal film set whatever the location (Amadeus, Bourne Identity, XXX, Mission Impossible). Wherever you wander you can only marvel at the stunning cityscape – the view over the Vltava River up to the Castle and Cathedral high on the hill, the famous Charles Bridge, and the tall majestic spires around the medieval Old Town. Prague certainly lives up to its reputation as a fairytale city.

Prague Winter, founded by the International Festivals Bureau in 1972, is a world class annual programme of classical music, opera and ballet.  The city’s exquisite. centuries-old theatres and concert halls feature performances by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Symphony Orchestra and Prague State Opera. The Festival celebrates the city’s rich artistic heritage and renowned Czech composers, Smetana, Dvorak, Janacek as well as Mozart who was so inspired by the city.  

I enjoyed a musical feast over a four day visit in January 2006. First night I was at the National Theatre for a performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, the perfect Christmas-time entertainment. The next afternoon, a wintry walk through the Old Town to the fabulous Theatre of the Estates for a delightful concert of traditional Bohemian music and song. The theatre is painted blue and gold with ornate ceiling, glittering chandeliers and high tiered boxes all around – it’s like being inside a child’s traditional puppet theatre. Built in 1783, The Marriage of Figaro was first performed here and this is where Mozart conducted the premiere of his opera Don Giovanni – that sense of cultural history creates a very special aura as you look around this tiny, yet magnificent opera house.

A major highlight of the week was a concert at the Rudolfinum Hall by the Czech Philharmonic of Dvorak’s G Major symphony. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was also performed with sparkling bravado by the dynamic Czech violinist, Pavel Sporkl.  And the feast of music continued with a dramatic production of The Queen of Spades, at the majestic, crimson and gold State Opera House.  

The Festival offers the visitor far more than classical opera and music. There are jazz concerts, marionette shows and traditional Black Theatre, combining mime, light effects, film, music and dance. Black Light Theatre and Laterna Magika are well established companies in Prague and their text free performances, (no language barrier), are ideal for the international visitor.    

The 35th Prague Winter runs from 2 – 7 January  2007.  Amongst 15 day and evening performances, are two perennially popular operas, Don Giovanni and La Traviata and a new production of Jenufa by Janacek. For ballet lovers, what could be more festive than a production of Cinderella and also the romantic Onegin. There are orchestral, chamber and jazz concerts, folk songs, choir recitals, marionette and black theatre shows taking place all around town. And don’t miss the final night when a dazzling Gala Fireworks display takes place on the riverbank. Everyone gathers on Charles Bridge around 9.30pm, warmed by a Becherovka liqueur, to watch the spectacle. It’s a fitting and spectacular end to a week of wonderful entertainment, music and song to celebrate the New Year.  

For an extra special festive experience, why not arrive in Prague a couple of days before the Festival and bring in the New Year with style. On Silvestr, (New Year’s Eve), a glamorous Gala Ball takes place at the State Opera House. Enjoy a cocktail reception, performance of Die Fledermaus by Strauss, buffet dinner,  followed by dancing the night away with a Swing Band.

Prague is one of the most magical, fairytale cities on the planet – especially in the white winter wonderland.

What else to see and do:

Market Stalls, Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square

Browse the Market stalls for cashmere pashminas, fur hats (you’ll need one in winter), hand-knitted gloves, amber and silver jewellery, wood craft, Czech chocolate and quality gifts.  

Astronomical Clock
- Prague's medieval timepiece on the tower in the Old Town Square. The design features the sun, moon and stars of the zodiac, the figures of Death and twelve Apostles while the cockerel crows as the hour strikes.

The Castle and St Vitus Cathedral
Prague Castle, established in the 9th century, is the largest medieval castle complex in Europe. Take time to wander around the palaces, monastery, museums, towers, the Spanish Hall and Golden Lane. Today it’s the seat of the President of the Czech Republic. The impressive gothic Cathedral, dating back to 1344, features St. Wenceslas Chapel, home of the Bohemian crown jewels.  

Sightseeing? Take a Prague Experience Walking Tour. Departs Old Town Square, 3 hours. Book in advance

Museum Kampa
A fabulous gallery of modern, avant-garde art to surprise the senses. Located right on the river in former Mill beside Charles Bridge. Find the giant chair on a tiny island. Cafe and shop.  

Where to eat

Hergetova Cihelna
Cihelna 2b, Prague 1- Mala Strana
Tel 257 535 534 open noon – 11pm.

Located on the river near Charles Bridge. Traditional Czech food –  potato soup, pork and dumplings as well as modern, fusion dishes. Young English speaking staff.

Stare Mesto (Old Town) Havelska 27, Prague 1.
Tel. 224 214 543 – open 9am to midnight

Lively Italian trattoria on cobbled side street near Theatre of the Estates. Great Pasta and seafood, esp. fresh mussels.  

Caf? Imperial

Na Porici, 15
Tel. 222 316 012

Beautifully preserved Art Deco caf?, former haunt of Franz Kafka. Call in for coffee and donuts,  traditional chicken stew or glass of Absinthe. Live jazz nights.