Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Beggar's Opera

Václav Havel

Last week, I took Carol and Mike Brady to Švandovo divadlo to see a production of Václav Havel’s Žebrácká opera – “The Beggar’s Opera”. While productions at Švandovo divadlo are in Czech, they have a screen above the stage that shows titles in English. If you go to the theatre and you need the titles, sit in the balcony for the sake of your neck.

As we were leaving the theatre, Carol asked me some questions about the play and when and how it had been produced, given the context of Havel’s standing as a dissident. I could not answer her questions, so I promised to do some research and write a brief report. This is that report. I have included background information about Václav Havel in case other people are not familiar with his history.

Playwright Václav Havel had been part of the movement pressing for political reforms in Czechoslovakia from the 1960s. After the Warsaw Pact invasion that ended the Prague Spring of 1968, he was given the status of “banned” writer. He then became an even more active and vocal political dissident, was imprisoned several times (the first time in 1977), and continued his subversive and heroic activities up until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

“The Beggar’s Opera” - not an opera - is a comedy, a political satire and an explicitly damning commentary on totalitarianism. Havel wrote “The Beggar’s Opera” in 1975. He adapted the play from a ballad opera of the same name that had been written by John Gay in 1728, which explains why the play is set in London and why the characters have Anglo names. Havel’s play was circulated as samizdat (illegal underground literature) and first performed in the Prague suburb of Horní Počernice on 1 November 1976. Havel was so feared and persecuted by the authorities that when “The Beggar’s Opera” had been staged, the police began harassing other people just for going to see it.


Tits Malone said...


I saw some Czech politican bitch-slap another one on the news...what's the deal?

Monkey's Max said...

Macek's opening line to Rath just before he slapped him on the back of the head was, "This is for what you said about my wife." I don't know what he had said, but I bet it was true.

There is a lot of apathy here about the upcoming elections - bad news because the Communists are the ones who always vote.

Monkey's Max said...

The actual episode with English subtitles: