Prague National Theatre mourns the death of legendary Lenka Šmídová

Jacques Offenbach: Orphée aux enfers, Prague National Theatre 2017 – Lenka Šmídová (Public Opinion) (photo Hana Smejkalová)

At the age of 60 one of the most beloved and famous Czech opera soloists Lenka Šmídová has died. Aside from her career at the National Theatre she was also well known for her international appearances, having studied with Katia Ricciarelli amongst others and developing an incredibly rich repertoire thanks to her unique voice capacities ranging from dramatic soprano roles to mezzo and alto roles. Šmídová was also a well known philanthropist, patriot and protector of Czech singers and chief of the soloist committee.

A huge black flag has been covering the front side of National Theatre building since Monday, May 30th. Musicians and singers are coming everyday to the theatre reception to leave a farewell note in the condolence book. Her family refused to hold an official funeral on the theatre stage as is usual because of her long-time dispute with opera chief Per-Boye Hansen, whom she accused of consistently trying to remove permanent Czech soloists from the theatre and changing one of the biggest European opera ensembles to a semi-stagione theatre.

Atonín Dvořák: Kate and the Devil, Lenka Šmídová (Kate) photo: Oldřich Pernica, 1990, (Prague National Theatre)

Šmídová grew up in Prague Castle district and started her opera studies with Helena Tattermuschová at the Prague Conservatoire. Later she graduated from Prague Music Academy as one of the first students of René Tuček. After her studies she went to Accademia Lirica L’Arte e Corale in Osimo where she acquired excellent knowledge of the Italian language and belcanto singing. At the age of 29 she made her debut as Eboli in Don Carlo at the Prague National Theatre. She showed great physical endurance by singing Eboli as often as three times a week. Based on this success she got her stable contract at the theatre. A year later after the fall of iron curtain she started to develop her career internationaly, singing at the Arena di Verona, Opéra de Monte-Carlo and various French, Italian, Spanish, Greek and South African stages. Around the age of 30 she sang dramatic mezzosoprano roles as Azucena, Santuzza, Carmen, Witch in Rusalka and others. Soon she developped her signature role of the Czech repertoire which was a comical role of the shrew Kate (Dvořák: Kate and the Devil). This role she sang for more than a decade in various Czech theaters. In her later age she showed her charming talent for comical roles of crazy mothers, gossipers and grandmothers. She excelled in the role of Mother of legendary Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal in the contemporary opera Don Hrabal by Miloš Orson Štědroň, National Theatre 2017. Her last appearance was in the role of Lotinka in Dvořák’s Jakobín on April 17th, 2022. 

Bohuslav Martinů: Tears of the knife, Lenka Šmídová – Mother, Prague Philharmonia, Jiří Bělohlávek – conductor (1999) 

Šmídová worked with notable conductors as Jiří Bělohlávek, Charles Mackerass, Wolfgang Sawallisch and others, and stage directors as Andrei Serban, Christopher Alden, Robert Wilson and David Radok.

Aside from her solo career, she was a singing pedagogue and chief of the soloist committee at the Prague National Theatre working on protecting work conditions of theatre employees and negotiating with political figures and Ministry of Culture. For the ensemble she was an irreplaceable personality of great moral integrity and dedication to the theatre and her colleagues.

Miloš Orson Štědroň: Don Hrabal – Lenka Šmídová (Mother), Roman Janál (Bohumil Hrabal) – photo: Hana Smejkalová (Prague National Theatre 2017)

text by: Ondřej Macháček

view our Czech news report here.

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