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Put your skates on, we're going to the opera
16.4.2004 - Rob Cameron

Prague has just witnessed one of the major events in the Czech cultural calendar - the eagerly anticipated premiere of "Nagano" - an opera based on the Czech ice-hockey team's gold-medal triumph at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Radio Prague's Rob Cameron put on his tuxedo to attend the premiere, and has the following report.

The final of the ice-hockey championships at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Czech defender Petr Svoboda is seconds away from scoring the single goal against arch-rivals Russia to win his country's first ever ice-hockey gold.

That legendary 1:0 victory was watched by millions of people back home in the Czech Republic and thousands of Czechs living abroad. Nagano has been celebrated in newspaper articles, books, TV documentaries, and a film. And now, it's been turned into an opera.

An opera which received its premiere at Prague's Estates Theatre, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart premiered Don Giovanni in 1787. Two hundred years later, the crowds are queuing up for a very different musical event. An opera called, simply, Nagano. Ondrej Havelka is the opera's director:

"It's not crazy, it's too strong a word. I think it's an unusual theme for an opera, but maybe you've heard about the football opera which was playing in the Munich Opera Theatre. so I think the theme is maybe unusual."

Nagano's an opera in three parts - representing the three periods in an ice-hockey match. It occupies the middle ground somewhere between an elaborate practical joke and a serious attempt to recreate the euphoria that swept the nation after the 1998 Olympic victory.

It's also rather avant garde - the story takes place on a fictitious Japanese island called Hokejdo, goalie Dominik Hasek is a God, and it features - among others - his namesake Jaroslav Hasek, author of the Good Soldier Svejk. But what did the audience make of it? I asked a few people leaving the theatre for their thoughts.

"It's about the Czech Republic, about Czech heroes, about Czech ice-hockey. I think's a good idea, a perfect idea. I liked it so much."

"Yeah I enjoyed it. I mean, why not."

Was it perhaps a bit too avant garde for your tastes?

"No, it was not avant garde at all! Not at all! It wasn't avant garde, was it?"

"Not at all. More traditional."

Opera Nagano, photo: CTKOpera Nagano, photo: CTK
Yeah. You had some minimalistic music, but very little. What did you like about it the most?

"The acrobatics."

"Svoboda's goal."

"Yeah, Svoboda's goal was not so bad, pretty well done. And the puck! Maybe the puck was the best."

So signs there that people will go and see Nagano, merely out of curiosity if nothing else. But whether it will become part of the Czech nation's musical heritage remains to be seen.

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