Bethlehem in Brno, with folklore motifs
Bohumil Hlaváček 10. December 2011 zdroj Folklore Magazine
Christmas is coming, and on 22nd November Brno City Theatre returned its characterful production of Bethlehem to the Drama Theatre, where it had its world premiere last year on 31st October. They had it on the repertoire until January, with 31 repeat performances. After the five in November there will be another seven in December.
We have found space in our magazine to discuss this amazing production because the authorial team, which aside from the director was made up of the Dean of the Theatre Faculty of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, Zbyněk Srba, and the Chancellor of the same institution, Václav Cejpek, dramaturge Jan Šotkovský and musician Dalibor Štrunc, decided not to make use of existing folk plays and montages created from them. They made the decision to take a far riskier route – to create a collage, which would not only bring the happy scene with the manger to life, but also take a look at the Bethlehem story from several angles. They wanted to place the tale into the wider
Biblical context, excite viewers with a contemporary view and provoke with a montage of seemingly incongruous elements.
Apart from Old and New Testament motifs and fragments of Czech folk plays the production of Bethlehem also contains translations of Polish folk plays, Wallachian sung folklore, songs by the group Cimbal Classic, and texts by Franz Werfel, Milan Rúfus and Ladislav Fuks. The aim is not the destruction of the Christmas story but an impressive experience – a rich and engaging spectacle that portrays the story which we seemingly all know in an excitingly unexpected light. Of course, Czech Christmas song Narodil se Kristus Pán (Jesus Christ Was Born) certainly can’t be left out, and won’t be. Dalibor Štrunc’s music is an integral part of the performance, played by the group Cimbal Classic, freely originating from Moravian Christmas traditions and other sources. The balladic nature of the story is accentuated by two live bands up on stage– hudecký (string band music - violin, alto, double bass) and klezmer (clarinet, mandolin, accordion, tuba) – and children from the Primavera ensemble.
Director Zbyněk Srba has managed to create a masterpiece and confirmed that folklore has always been a great inspiration to him. As early as in 1986, his diploma thesis at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague was entitled Folklorní inspirace v moderním divadle (Inspiration from Folklore in Modern Theatre). This has also been confirmed by a whole line of his productions both at the National Theatre in Prague, and in Brno.
Brno City Theatre have released the Christmas play Bethlehem on CD
Vítězslav Sladký 29. November 2010 zdroj www.musical-opereta.cz
Following the successful production of the theatre performance Bethlehem (directed by Z. Srba) a music CD of the same name has now been released. The author of the music and adaptor of folk songs Dalibor Štrunc, together with his Cimbal Classic band, has prepared nearly an hour of original Christmas music inspired mainly by Moravian Christmas traditions. It is a free continuation of the show in the form of a collage, making it possible to view the Bethlehem story from many angles. It integrates the tale into a wider biblical context and simultaneously sees it through contemporary eyes. Thus, novel and less well known yet all the more beautiful and earthier Wallachian Christmas carols appear completely naturally in the company of the original folk songs by Cimbal Classic as well as the sounds of klezmer music which contributes elements of Middle Eastern, Jewish and Oriental melodies. Also, Easter songs with their eternal and permanent message about life and death have their place here in the wider historic context.
Apart from the above-mentioned melodies, which are perhaps less well-known to listeners, the CD also presents traditional carols such as Narodil se Kristus (Christ was born) or Kainar´s playful piece Vracaja sa dom (Returning home). It is an extensive project, instrumentally as well as in terms of the arrangement, in which great many top musicians and singers took part alongside Cimbal Classic. Apart from Kateřina and Dalibor Štrunc, leading acting personalities of Brno City Theatre alternate in the solo parts: Mária Lalková (Marie), Petr Štěpán (the Angel), Stano Slovák, Milan Němec and Alan Novotný (the Shepherds), Ladislav Kolář (Joseph) and others. The Primavera children’s choir, the Polajka women’s choir from Rožnov and the men’s choir Ars Brunensis underline and reinforce the colourfulness and richness of the whole album.
Bethlehem has also been released as a double LP album, with a bonus selection of songs by Cimbal Classic on the fourth side. The Bethlehem CD is issued by the Cimbal Classic publishing house in cooperation with Brno City Theatre. A festive christening will take place as part of the performance at the Drama Theatre on Wednesday, 1st December.
Bethlehem - not just a nativity scene
Luboš Mareček 20. November 2009 zdroj MF Dnes
The religious and spiritual side of Christmas is taking a real beating in this greedy day and age. The life-giving light that the birth of God's son brought our ancestors has been smothered by the winking bulbs of cheap hypermarkets, the gestures of buffoonish Santa Claus and the sweet illustrations of Josef Lada, the truthfulness and depth of which are believed by only a few.
With the play Bethlehem, which carries the expressive subtitle 'A Pastoral, or Christmas Plays', Brno City Theatre attempts to get around this accursed decimation of our Czech Christmas in a distinctive way. Dramaturgists Václav Cejpek and Jan Šotkovský, together with the director Zbyněk Srba and musician Dalibor Štrunc, have taken their own path to solving this issue. They've taken the best of domestic Christmas theatrical tradition and created a playful mixture. On to the stage bounced a collage of Czech folk games, biblical motifs, Wallachian musical traditions, Jewish Klezmer music and slices of poetry.
In this way they have created some kind of Christmas kaleidoscope, which is neither a tradition-soaked journey to the famous manger, nor any form of iconoclastic montage. It's a complex directorial composition, a refreshing production both in its music and acting. Don't go there expecting a cartoon Christmas card with a manger - be prepared for a light two-hour show of originally-done Biblical narrative.
The audience is treated to a procession of scenes including the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the Martyrdom of Christ, the discovery of resurrected Christ in the temple, and the Ascension. Space is also given to an impressively constructed display dealing with the Jews from the time of their exodus from Egypt right up to the gas chambers. However, they took things a step too far with the film projection of the eternal wanderer Chaplin with the child in the legendary film 'The Kid', which just didn't seem to fit the rest of the play.
However, this Bethlehem has no wish to crucify anyone for their lack of knowledge of Biblical events, and neither does it want to moralise or preach at people. Its main ambition is to serve up the famous story in an unforced, entertaining way by placing it into new, and for many people surprising, contexts. It was exactly this design aspect that, among attentive members of the audience, generated the question of the evening: what has remained within us of the outline and message of the Nativity story?
Srba does magic on the empty stage with situational gags, interesting lighting and film projections. The true life-blood of the performance is the presence of hudecký and klezmer folk mini-bands on stage. Joy exudes from the wittily exuberant depictions of an angel (Petr Štěpán) and the Devil (Michal Isteník), and the cabaret style performance of Milan Němec. A chapter in itself is the clownish trio of shepherds, Lukáš Hejlík, Alan Novotný and Stano Slovák. Alongside the humorous tone this spectacle also offers tones more absorbing, supplied in places by Mária Lalková as a Slovak-speaking Mary.
The performance almost routinely erupts into the famous Czech hymn 'Narodil se Kristus Pán' (Christ the Lord was Born), and everyone is pressed to join in with the singing. Even so, this wandering Bethlehem is an experience.
Václav Cejpek, Zbyněk Srba, Jan Šotkovský: Betlehem
David Kroča 5. November 2009 zdroj review for Czech Radio Vltava
The authors of the play Bethlehem, lead by the director Zbyněk Srba, had already announced before the premiere that they'd attempt to move beyond the concept of a traditional story about the birth of Jesus. They chose the form of a composition in which biblical motifs and traditional Christmas plays meet folk songs and texts by Ladislav Fuks, Josef Kainar and Milan Rúfus.
The core of the plot is the distressful journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem; however, we also follow simultaneously the story of King Herod, as well as the three kings and the shepherds who travel to the manger from Wallachia. These quite predictable episodes are interrupted with scenes which associatively remind one of the present or various moments from the history of mankind. With the help of film projections, the story of the biblical couple intersect with a story of fugitives from today's Bethlehem, and when the carol about the birth of Jesus finishes, it is replaced by a series of scenes form Chaplin's film The Kid, which evokes the topic of a child's loneliness, and longing for their parents.
The montage method suits Srba's production well, and it lifts it above the level of traditional Christmas plays. Serious topics can quickly replace the humorous episodes, and this is the main - and in fact, also the only - source of dramatic tension. While the shepherds disappear into the auditorium and, singing folk songs, collect contributions for the birth of the Saviour from the spectators, on the stage, Herod gives the order to kill innocent children and the following scene - the journey to the Promised Land - reminds us of the fleeing of Jews from fascism at the end of the thirties.
Seventeen actors dealt with the nearly forty characters on stage. Many of them could thus show their versatility, which was particularly successful in the case of Milan Němec, who entertains the audience as the somewhat down-trodden Adam while also managing the roles of the shepherd Blinka, the Blacksmith and Herod's servant. Among those who acted only in one role, Mária Lalková excels as Mary: at the beginning, she is a common girl who slowly has to come to terms with the role of being the Mother of God. Petr Štěpán and Michal Isteník act the popular characters of the Angel and the Devil, with an appropriate level of exaggeration. The costume designer Andrea Kučerová helped here with many witty accessories, which include a hat with large horns or a snake which is coiled around the waist.
I want a gold harp under the Christmas tree this year
Jiří P. Kříž 3. November 2009 zdroj Právo
With Jan Skácel in Cejpek, Srba and Šotkovský's Bethlehem in Brno's Lidická Street
The rector of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, Václav Cejpek, the dean of his theatre faculty, Zbyněk Srba, and hard-working Jan Šotkovský took part in the creation of this version of the hundred-times-produced Czech baroque folk plays that pass on the message about the birth of Jesus Christ as described in the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke.
Shepherds with some kilos extra
I will praise Šotkovský, too, for the choice of texts for the above-mentioned programme. Božena Němcová, Jan Neruda, Jan Skácel, Jan Milíč Lochman and Tomáš Halík with his prompting preachings all evoke Czech Christmas within this work, as well as Josef Lada and his inimitable pictures. They are part of the national heritage, alongside paintings of the Madonna with the infant Jesus by world masters.
Srba has brought Bethlehem to the stage for the thousand-and-first time - and yet somewhat differently once again. He could rely mainly on the magic of the set by Jaroslav Milfajt, on his feeling for allusion, and also on Andrea Kučerová's barocque-esque costume style and his own masterful composition of large scenic images. And, mainly on the reliable singing of the ensemble, who are well-trained by their performance of musicals.
The Drama Stage suits this chamber topic, and on it the spectators are pleased and also moved by Petr Štěpán (Angel), Mária Lalková (Mary), Michal Isteník (the Devil), Milan Němec (Adam, shepherd Blinka), Eva Ventrubová (Eve, Anne and others), Jana Musilová (Elisabeth etc.), Lukáš Hejlík (shepherd Ondráš), Stano Slovák (shepherd Slovák), Alan Novotný (shepherd Chromáš), Viktor Skála (Herod)…
The eye of a critic, ever-searching for flaws, cannot miss the increasing percentage of overweight males in the acting ensemble. Also, one third of the kings failed to avoid the extra kilos, but I'll leave Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar to decide who it was. The management of the theatre should probably prescribe beneficial regular exercises to the gentlemen.
I'm hurrying to you, brothers
The live music on the stage, which has two forms - hudecký (string band music - violin, alto, double bass) and klezmer (clarinet, mandolin, accordion, tuba) - certainly makes a great contribution to the success of Srba's Bethlehem, as do the great many folk songs and carols adapted by Dalibor Štrunc, including the final carol Narodil se Kristus Pán (Christ the Lord Was Born)…
Perhaps the concept of the shepherds' pilgrimage following the star to Bethlehem is the most original part in Srba's production. In it, Němec, Slovák, Hejlík and Novotný shine in place of the star up on the stage.
Jiří P. Kříž, Právo, 3. 11. 2009