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RPT-Czech communist show trial reaps success as opera

PRAGUE, April 25 (Reuters) – A Czech opera based on communist-era death sentences against a leading democrat and her colleagues confronts its audience with a performance that mimics her carefully choreographed show trial.

Milada Horakova was jailed by the Nazis from 1940 until 1945 but posed an even bigger danger to the communist rulers who took power in 1948 and began weeding out all democratic opposition.

In her court case, which according to historians was inspired by Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s, Horakova was condemned to death on trumped-up charges of treason and espionage and hanged on June 27, 1950, with three others.

Composer Ales Brezina has turned the powerful story into an opera called “Tomorrow will…”, citing actual police and courtmaterial with the aim of confronting the audience with the brutal chapter in Czech history.

“(The trial) was produced as theatre; the script was written ahead of time; there were rehearsals; testimonies were learned by heart,” he said.

“The main difference is that no one is executed at the end of our opera, but otherwise it was prepared in a similar way to the trial itself.”

The opera, which opened on April 9, has won strong reviews.
“It highlights the absurdity of the Communist machinery in a subdued way. Despite that, the lyrical work conveys a real and strong experience,” wrote the daily Hospodarske Noviny.
Brezina said he meant not to focus only on Horakova, but on the collision of a free mind with a repressive system.
“It is an opera about which stances people take when there is a conflict between a mass of those who give up their right of individual thinking and an individual who wants to keep it,” he said.

To show how fast anyone can turn criminal, singers swap roles in the performance, and a semi-transparent mirror reflects the audience to stress the public’s role.
Horakova dons a tight dark coat, while prosecutors wear butchers’ aprons stained with blood or suits covered with aggressive titles from 1950s communist newspapers.

In real life, one of Horakova’s prosecutors, 85-year-old Ludmila Brozova-Polednova, was sentenced last year to eight years in prison for complicity to murder in the case.
But another court ruled the issue was past the statute of limitations and the case now lingers at the High Court.
The Czechs have in general been rather slow in prosecuting top Communists for committing crimes under their 40 years of Moscow-backed rule. A very few, usually lower-ranking, officials have been jailed for abuse of office.
The Communist Party stepped down peacefully in the 1989 ”Velvet Revolution”. It is now the third strongest party in parliament.

Jan Lopatka, Reuters, April 28, 2008

(Additional reporting by Jiri Skacel, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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