The Prague Summer Nights Festival was founded to help young artists develop their talent and foster their careers on an international level. Not only does it give singers from around the world the opportunity to work with many great artists, but it gives them the opportunity to sing for an international audience.
Having begun earlier in June, singers and instrumentalists go through intensive coachings learning full operas and opera scenes. Instrumentalists are tasked with learning full concert repertoire and chamber music.
The program, now its third year has figured a way to make the program inclusive and a true bonding experience. With the help of Hotel Olsanka, all artists are housed in the same locale and practice rooms have been formed to create intimate spaces.
The day begins at 8 a.m. where orchestra members and singers are scheduled for two-hour practice hours and then singers are brought to warm-ups and coachings. They are then brought to staging rehearsals, which are promptly followed by a lunch hour. The day concludes with more coachings, lessons, masterclasses, practice, and, of course, free time.
Upon arriving at Prague, festival coordinators allowed me to sit in the rehearsal room where Maria Zuoves and Sherrill Milnes were working on final details of a staging for “Le Nozze di Figaro.” The work was incredibly detailed as Zuoves spoke about character and was enthusiastic about movement.
The coordinators then took me to the final dress rehearsal of “The Magic Flute.” Arthur Fagen worked with the orchestra and singers diligently stopping at any moment to make sure entrances were correct and that the text was also pronounced correctly. And once dress rehearsal finished, Fagen went through numerous moments with arias, duets, and chorus portions to make sure everyone was secure for the performance.
The day concluded with an evening of opera scenes. Because not everyone in the program will get a chance to sing as a soloist in “Le Nozze di Figaro” and “Die Zauberflote,” the organizers made sure that at least every singer would get a chance to show their talent on the stage. After all, the mission of the program is to develop these singer’s talents and allow them to add repertoire, be it an aria or an ensemble piece. And so they got the chance to perform at the Lichtenstein Palace.
The program has a variety of ages and what is striking is to see the diverse levels. Some singers are clearly more developed than others but the comradery on stage is present.
The program also included a diverse range of works from Mozart to Verdi and allowed certain singers to show diverse ranges. Among the highlights of the evening included Mozart’s “La Ci Darem la mano” from “Don Giovanni” which was cleverly staged in a movie theater and Rossini’s “La Calunnia” from “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” which showcased Bartolo with a Puppet as Basilio sang his hysterical aria. The concert allowed a preview of “The Magic Flute” as the Papageno Suicide Scene was performed with the same cast for the full production, except another baritone got to show his skills as Papageno.
There were also pieces performed from the some of the most challenging works including Cio-Cio-San’s flower duet from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” the quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and the letter scene quartet from Verdi’s “Falstaff.”
This program also gave the opportunity for three young conductors to take the podium and show off their skills in very different repertoire. And, of course, it also gave directors and pianists the opportunity to also collaborate with these singers.
The end of the concert saw all the performers bow on stage as they were greeted with such enthusiasm by the audience. Many of the opera scene performers may not get the spotlight for the two operas but after performing at the legendary Lichenstein Palace, it is a night that many will remember.