Monday, February 4, 2013

Take that, Disney

When I lived in Plzeň, I was acquainted with Václav Luks, a very talented harpsichordist, French horn player, and conductor--he was a friend of Edita Keglerová, who was a student in my English class and who became a friend of mine.

By the time I was back here with my family two years ago, Luks had created his own baroque music ensemble, Collegium 1704. We went to a couple of their concerts, including a New Year's Eve performance of Messiah while Adrienne and Scott were  visiting, and I enjoyed their playing. So two weeks ago when I got to Prague and saw Collegium 1704 posters around town, I was happy to see that they had a performance on February 4th, my last night in town.

This morning I got my act together and got a ticket for the performance, Molière's Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, or as the website for the National Theater lists it, Pán z Prasečkova, or in my rough English translation, The Sire of Pigville.

The performance was fantastic. It was in the Stavovské divadlo, the Estates Theater, built in 1783 and still looking every inch the Classical theater--so, not quite old enough to be fully authentic for Molière's time, but closer than almost anywhere else. But more than the physical setting, there was the staging, set design, and acting.

It wasn't an attempt to mount a simulacrum of what an audience might have seen in Paris in 1670, but neither did they ignore conventions of baroque theater and try to make it thoroughly modern. Elements of baroque, stylized baroque, and modernism all flowed together effortlessly, even down to the music: Molière wrote the play in cooperation with the composer Lully, but the producers of this version didn't hesitate to put in a little passage of swing music where it made sense.

And when the monsieur is in deep legal trouble, he asks if there isn't maybe a chance of an amnesty, making a topic reference to recent political events, and evoking rye wry laughter from the audience.

So it would have been a thoroughly enjoyable evening on its own, even without coincidence.

Shortly after I found my seat, at the edge of the last row of the ground floor, a couple of guys found their way to the padded stools that are shoved in at the back as extra seating. They were speaking accented English, one was evidently Czech, the other by appearance and accent seemed to be East Asian.

The Czech looked familiar--had he been in a class of mine when I taught here two years ago? It seems unlikely, but I'll ask him at intermission.

Then he said, "Excuse me, were you my professor at CZU?" And of course I was. After he graduated from CZU, the fellow Jan went to Taiwan to do an MBA, which he has now almost finished. And his friend Elton is indeed from Taiwan, but they didn't meet when Jan went there for school; rather, they met when they were both traveling in New Zealand 6 years ago and doing odd jobs on farms to pay for their stay. Elton travels a bunch, and when he's in Prague (and when Jan is also in Prague, and not, say in Taiwan), they hang out.

It turned out there was no intermission, and as we were walking out at the end, Jan invited me to join them for a beer at a nearby club. "Yeah, I could do one."

And it turns out it's the bar in the basement of the Kolowrat Palace, across the street from the Estates Theater, another performance space managed by the National Theater.

And the club in the basement is sort of an artists' club, reachable directly from the Estates Theater via a tunnel.

And the reason Jan was at the performance, and was going to that particular club, was that his girlfriend was one of the female leads in the show, so she showed up a few minutes after we did, along with a couple other members of the production. So I got to have a beer with some cast members from the great performance I had just seen, in a theater where Mozart himself had performed.

Now, granted, coincidences are easier to come by if you limit your attention to a country of 10 million rather than the whole world of 7 billion.

Even so -- Disney, I'll see your "small world" and raise you a "tiny."


  1. (You might want to double-czech your "rye...")

  2. Doh! I've been away from my baking for so long, I had that on the brain.