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  • Scott Williamson

Mozart's Journey to Prague

Mozart with the Commendatore at the historic Estates Theatre

For the curious (or extremely bored), here are some images and travel journals from our recent trip to Prague. The title comes from Mörike's novella of the same name. "Mozart's Journey to Prague" is classic "Historic fiction" about Mozart's famous journey for the premiere of Don Giovanni (at the Estates Theatre) by an author more known for his poetry, especially the "book" of poems set by Hugo Wolf.

The National Theatre, seen from the Moldau at night, XI.17

11.XI.17 | Mom's (2nd) Yahrzeit | Ibis Mala Strana, Smichov, Prague 5 | Great first night in Prague – gorgeous views of the cityscape at night crossing the Moldau (Vltava) by the Café Savoy, across from the National Theatre which was more gorgeous inside than its Imperialist - Neo-Classical - with Baroque / Rococo flourishes exterior and façade allowed.

Stunning “old-school” 17th-18th Italian-style opera house, with three different main panels / curtains which flew out one-by-one before the visually and dramatically stimulating new production of Rusalka, the 12th or 13th (and 2000th-some performance!) since its 1901 premiere in this most hallowed of Czech theatres. Needless to say it was a special occasion to hear this beloved fairy-tale-tragedy in the theatre where it was created.

It was also great to hear the rustic, natural, expressive and rich-hued sounds of the Czech wind and brass, the low-weighted sound of the orchestra (the string count was 10, 8, 6, 6, 6 – so not only a smaller upper string contingent, but a heavily-weighted low-string balance). "Bohemian horns", as the great conductor Rafael Kubelik said, "sound only for the hunt or the dance, for the [Bohemian] woods, but never for war" – and this “joy in life” sounds even in a tragedy as devastating and affecting as Rusalka (which ends with its composer’s characteristic smile, even through tears – as he perfectly enacts with the sweeping climactic bitonal clash in the briefest of orchestral apotheoses or codas as the lyric drama ends…)

Inside the National Theatre, 2nd balcony (panel shown is the 2nd of 3 "main" curtains, revealed one by one before the top of show

12.XI | Sunday

No sleep last night but a great day yesterday following our own itinerary – a cultural walking tour and literary pub crawl through famous neighborhoods – the Faust House (now part of Charles University) at the foot of Charles Park, which we later learned was Dvorak’s favorite park in which to walk and muse – beer and soup at the famed (Sveik haunt) U Flêku (black beer with garlic and potato soups); visited the Café Louvre (Einstein, Kafka, Rilke, the Prague Circle, et al; it was one of the social centres in one of the cultural capitals of Europe - along with Vienna and Paris, Prague was a "hub" during the Secessionist / Expressionist / Art Deco & Nouveau eras…)

Saw the Slav Island and famed Zofin palace, the Estates Theatre and the Old Town Square with its ingenious and eccentric Astronomical Clock – after having paid tribute to the "Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror" [Inquiring minds see the recent Holocaust-period film on the subject, "The Man with the Iron Heart"...)

Prague's famous Astronomical Clock, at Old Town Square

Visited the Sex Machines Museum (which mini-Mozart appreciated, as it didn’t exist on his original Journey to Prague in the 1780’s…) Saw the new imposing and visually engaging public art sculpture of Kafka’s head – Pivo at the Olympia, a much less pretentious (and cheaper) restaurant across the corner to the famed Café Savoy. Took our friends Bonnie’s and Bob’s recommendation to eat at Konirna, and had one of the best of many outstanding meals (most of which featured roasted, stewed or grilled meat, all deliciously seasoned and in various degrees well-prepared, and all for at least ½ the price we’d pay in a US capital city…and the beer, so good, so fresh, so right, and oh-so-inexpensive – an imperial, Euro-sized pint of one of the world’s original Pilsners (which derives from the Czech Pilz) or Lagers; their famous “black” beer rivals Germany’s Schwarzbier and is half the price, just sayin'...

Mozart's journey to Kafka's Head, Prague XI.17

13.XI | Monday | Prague

Powerful, unexpectedly meaningful day around Jewish Prague, including all but one of the Synagogues and sites that make up the Jewish Museum.

  1. Alt-Neu (Old-New) Synagogue – Rabbi Löw’s seat #1 and the Golem

  2. Maisel Synagogue – exhibit on Jews in Bohemia 10th – 18th c. Beautiful Torah mantles, relics and tapestries, books and keepsakes “recovered from the Nazi terror 1939-1945”

  3. Ceremonial Hall – honoring the Jewish Burial Society and its associated rites and rituals

  4. Klausen Synagogue – whose sanctuary is an exhibit honoring the Jewish Calendar, its holidays, rituals, usw…

  5. Pinkas Synagogue (Holocaust Memorial): powerful, sober tribute to the 80,000 Terezin victims of Nazi terror, every name and date etched in colored ink in tiny script across every wall – all the names, all the names…

  6. Old Jewish Cemetery – with its 12,000 crooked, cracked and aging tombstones, so crowded, cramped and inconvenienced...

Rabbi Löw's hallowed seat "#1" at the "Alt-Neu" (Old-New) Synagogue, home of the Golem legend

Followed by a non-Kosher lunch of delicious, fall off the skewer roast pork knee, a Prague specialty, at The Golden Elephant, one of the pubs on the list –

Watched the Astronomical Clock (see above) toll 16 times for 4 pm – Death a dark skeleton ringing a bell on the hour, as the Saints process around above – an Occult / Moralist / Allegorical / Dramatic mechanical entertainment / ritual with scientific, astronomical, astrological, and “farmer’s almanac” charting of the seasons – a cool ritual to experience, even in the cold Nov. rain…

Dalí exhibit of (mostly) late watercolors, lithographs and prints – series of Horses, of Dante-inspired Commedia illustrations – Drinks and a pastry at the famed Café Savoy. If over-priced (still 3.50 for a pint?) worth doing once, even if only for the “did that” thing (where Kafka, Rilke, and co. dined and drank and talked and drafted / sketched / thought…)

Dalí: Minotaur and Dalí bust with horns

14.XI.17 | Tuesday | Last night in Prague

Yesterday’s itinerary, in descending order:

  1. Dinner at Budvar Pub and Restaurant (and Bourdain-endorsed pick) U Medvidku – yummy goulash (me) and dumplings (her); good beer, incl. a 12.8% “strongest beer in the world” Beer X, along with a traditional Budvar (the original Budweiser, and one of the world's oldest examples of a pilz).

  2. Drinks at a Film Bar near Dvorak’s final home on Zitna St

  3. Sausage at St. Wenceslas Square (another Bourdain pick)

  4. Beer at oldest pub – brewery (1431?), U Supa – saw the Powder Gate and Municipal House

  5. Flight at Beer Story (beer pub with multiple taps – only overpriced beer in Prague, really)

  6. Spanish Synagogue – completed Jewish Prague (except for Mikveh, New Cemetery, and Jerusalem Syn) – stunning interior with Islamic / Moorish / Arabic / Venetian design – elaborate detail and intricate craft-work – excellent exhibit on culture, history and biographies of important Prague lives and their times, focusing on 19th – 20th centuries, Romantic / Modern era up to a powerful memorial to Terezin, including manuscripts, programs, and a box full of burnt, aged T’fillin… Kafka statue outside, "Description of a Struggle" -

  7. Lunch at Sveik restaurant – classic Czech atmosphere in keeping with its namesake – re-crossed Charles Bridge (less crowded) and appreciated the imposing statues, the ceremonial atmosphere of entering a famed city across this bridge, and under this impressive black-iron medieval gate…

The spectacularly beautiful Spanish Synagogue
view of Castle, St Vitus from below Charles Bridge
Kafka statue "Description of a Struggle" outside Spanish Synagogue

Castle tour – St Vitus and the amazing stained glass, esp. Mucha’s design (for an Insurance Co.) – last judgment mosaic outside on South wall – Old Royal Palace and its fascinating histories, emerald green heaters, emblems, doors, books, thrones, and goblins – you can imagine a pulp-historical drama like Game of Thrones or The Tudors or "The Alchemists" set here – St George Basilica and Golden Lane (or Alchemistengasse, as it was in Kafka’s time, when he lived with his sister at No. 22…) – the Goldsmith’s tavern and its Harry Potter / Magus / Lord of the Rings / epic feel (what experiments and magic happened here?!?) – the Filmmaker’s studio, with its screening room and classic posters; the reels and reels of film lining every step on the stairwell… The man (skeleton) hanging in the tower, out of its cage, on display as an eerie, disturbing warning or reminder…and the troubled sculptures, stooped and pained figures, in the courtyard…Fascinating and mysterious... Haunting and intriguing...

15.XI | Wed | Last Day in Prague (yesterday):

1. Another walk through Charles Park, this time knowing it was Dvorák’s favorite.

2. Wenceslas Square, imposing statue opposite the (still under construction) National Gallery, which marks the head of Prague’s most impressive boulevard…

3. We were the only non-Czechs at a local pub with a “Political talk is forbidden” sign, a cold-war era holdover…

4. Mucha Museum: a couple small galleries of his famous posters, including several Bernhardt (notably Medea and Hamlet, but no Tosca…); interesting 10-15’ short film documentary, well-made and worth the sit-down, since the museum itself was rather underwhelming. Not enough “there” there…

Mucha posters for Bernhardt

4. Saw Tycho Brahe’s burial stone at the Tyn church on Old Town Square

5. Pub crawl included the famed “Golden Tiger” and the Rosicrucian-themed “The 3 Roses” (which had the best beer, and the widest variety since it offered 6-8…)

6. Glad to have been in the Estates Theatre for a show, but I wish we could have seen a play or an opera rather than a dull and flat ballet, an adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons called Valmont which lacked the energy and drive inherent in Laclos’ title, and retained in the Frampton play and film… The idea of pairing Schubert and Vasks to score the story could have worked, had it been more imaginatively rendered, but like much of the choreography, the scoring was perfunctory, the transitions rough, the supporting material second-rate…But what a gorgeous and special place to be! Mazel tov, Mozart!

7. Final pivo at the Olympia for a last night send-off to ourselves – I had a potato soup with dill and some citrus (maybe lemon?) which was interesting and different – also had a poached egg and bacon…

Inside the Estates Theatre for Mozart's last night in Prague
View of the Moldau, incl (r to l, across bridge) the "Dancing Building", The National Theature

Estates Theatre balcony box relief detail

Last night's pivo at historic Rosicrucian-themed brew-pub, The Three Roses

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