The use and abuse of freedom is a theme that has occupied humanity since times immemorial. Productions in the main programme of the International Theatre Festival Divadelná Nitra (27 September – 2 October 2019) prove that it remains relevant today.

Overblownemotions and actions escalate a love story with discordant,even sinister undertones. Devastating freedom shown in full display. The Prague National Theatre will open the 28th year of Divadelná Nitra with its stellar production of Sternenhoch, widely acclaimed by Czech critics. This extraordinary musical-dramatic work is based on the romanetto The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch by Czech philosopher and novelist Ladislav Klíma, a contemporary of Franz Kafka. The book offers a unique blend of low and high art, of grotesque and horror, of sophisticated philosophy and the dullness of everyday life. It follows the story of degenerate Prince Sternenhoch, who decides defiantly to marry Helga – a woman of inferior birth. Only later, he comes to realise that his beloved is a witch.

Librettist and composer Ivan Acher and director Michal Dočekal have brought new life into the world of high art and caughttheattention even of those who had formerly had no interest in the genre. Acher says he was already spellbound by The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch at the age of 17. “It intrigued me by its formulation of such high-calibre ideas and by a strange thoughtfulness in how it connected the wisest threads of philosophical extracts against the backdrop of something absolutely vile,” he said on theArtZóna segment on ČT art. Acher has brought something new and unseen to opera: his adaptation has singers perform difficult parts in Esperanto, suspended in tortuous poses on ropes, to the accompaniment of an orchestra that is far from classical. “The music flowsfrom ethnic sections – ‘shamanic’ rhythms and walls of sound– to gentle soundscapesand touches. The melodic lines of voice and violin unfolding on top of recurring bass riffs played by a contrabassoon remind both of a Baroque passacaglia and the rock of the Plastic People of the Universe. With all its scenic appeal, the chief strengthsof Acher’s Sternenhoch are music and an excellent cast,” the production was praised by aktualne.cz. The authors cast Sergei Kostov in the role of Prince Sternenhoch, while Helga is portrayed by Vanda Šípová. The Opera of the National Theatre Prague will make its first appearance at Divadelná Nitra.

They revel in indulgent celebration, run amok in orgies and testourmoralstandards. The Maenads are the retinue of the Greek god Dionysus, who decides to enter an unequal fight with a mortal – King Pentheus. The Bacchae– a new production by the Slovak National Theatre appearing at Divadelná Nitra 2019. This play by the Ancient Greek tragedian Euripides spans the millennia to offer a cruel, bloody yet cathartic tragedy of the contemporary individual bound by moral extremes.

It is interesting that this Greek tragedy perfectly captures and expresses the moral crisis of today’s individual. The crisis is brought about by a constant oscillation between two extremes, between the liberal and conservative to absolutist perspective on governingsociety. The Bacchae offer a view of freedom precisely in this confrontation of history with the present,” explained the curator of the festival’s Slovak programme section, Júlia Rázusová. In her view, the play’s philosophically and visually compelling scenes that depict the ecstasies of a hedonistic society kept in check by the rule of power and order tell of the limitations imposed on the will and freedom by necessity and fate. This production, directed by Rastislav Ballek, features an excellent cast of young actors from the National Theatre – Milan Ondrík, Dominika Kavaschová and Daniel Fischer.

Another Slovak production in the main programme of this year’s Divadelná Nitra that turns to an ancient text is The Bible by Aréna Theatre. It featuresthe reading of roughly 50 pages from the Book of Books, giving audiences an opportunity to confrontthe question whether the Bible is merely a historical document without relevance today or a still valid guide to moral life. This riveting musical-visual performance by actor Juraj Kukura raises perennial questions about morality, conscience, faith and the power of spirituality in the current, morally tumultuous age. The dramatic renditionitself evokes the urgency of these questions – at one point, Juraj Kukura crucifies his own suit on a canvas he has just painted black. Lively scenic readings are accompanied by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Joseph Haydn, Georg Friedrich Händel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ivan Acher and other composers performed by the Slovak Chamber Orchestra. Like The Bacchae, the play was directed by Rastislav Ballek.

Both productions are based on ancient pieces of text that each have a very specific take on the topic of freedom. In the oldest stories, the idea of freedom is first deemed wilful and arrogant, a sweet illusion one has to snap out of. Then some mysterious divine force lays an insane, unbearable burden of responsibility on the protagonist. Man then decides whether he’ll accept it – like Abraham, who promised to sacrifice his only son to God – or not. Nowadays, we would hardly call this choice free. Or we would have to begin thinking of freedom otherwise than we are accustomed to,” Ballek reflects.

Besides performances in the main programme, Divadelná Nitra will also feature a rich accompanying program that will reflect on this year’s festival theme – Podoby slobody / Faces of Freedom.

The 28th year of Divadelná Nitra will include performances and events at the Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra, the Karol Spišák Old Theatre in Nitra, the Synagogue, the Nitra Gallery, the Regional Education Centre, the Karol Kmeťko Regional Library, as well as the Párovské Háje Culture House and atother cultural institutions, at the Festival Tent and elsewhere on Svätoplukovo námestie.

All information about the upcoming International Theatre Festival Divadelná Nitra, which will take place from 27 September until 2 October 2019, are available on our newly redesigned website www.nitrafest.sk. With its new website, Divadelná Nitra has also launched an on-line ticket sale on 1 August 2019, at: