Written by: Anita Lišková & Klára Smolová
Photo by: Vojtěch Vlk
We invited a world-famous mezzo-soprano and a top national soccer player to get together, thinking their backgrounds would provide interesting differences of values and ideas. In fact, the conversation glittered with wit rather than conflicting opinions.
You have both lived or are still living abroad. How has being away for such a long time changed your view of Czech culture and society? How do you see them from this perspective?
Karel Poborský: I have lived in three countries, and each was completely different, even though for me, as a soccer player, the sport is the same everywhere. England is a very closed, cold country, and finding friends there is nearly impossible. But in Portugal my family became acclimated in just a few months, and after three years it was hard for us to leave. We moved to Italy, where, due to the mania surrounding soccer, I could hardly leave the house. Here in Bohemia, it sometimes seems to me that if someone really knows how to do something it’s seen as a mistake. There is tremendous envy here. But it’s my home and always will be.
Dagmar Pecková: I don’t have much experience with long-term stays abroad. I feel at home in Germany, I live in the country, and sometimes when I forget to close the windows when I practice, people discover that I’m a singer. I converse with people in a completely normal manner, as a neighbor, and not even my children feel favored there. Here (in the Czech Republic) I can’t walk down the street or buy bread without four people stopping me. I think that many things have changed for the better, but when I read books written during the First Republic, I say to myself: For God’s sake, where did all this nation’s talent go, that wonderful creativity, the work ethic, the endeavor to get somewhere and prove something? And honesty as well.
After 14 years of changes, what remains stuck in your memory as a symbol of the change?
Pecková: I haven’t been struck by many positive things. Unfortunately. I think – and probably it couldn’t be any other way in this time of globalization – that before we danced to the Russians’ tune, and now we dance to the Americans’. We’re a small nation, so maybe we have no right to our own personality.
Poborský: A positive change is that when someone wants to go work anywhere in the world he can, but he has to be up to it, or he’ll soon come home and have to start from scratch again. On the other hand, we will join a sort of “European line”, and we’ll be at the end of it. And we pretend to be glad just to stand in line. But in Europe, which is unifying uncompromisingly, there might not be any other way.
Gaining experience abroad may be a great temptation, and lots of talented Czechs go abroad. Can a person become an internationally recognized star coming from this country?
Pecková: No, certainly not. You have to prove to the world that you have what it takes, you must stand up to the competition. If you don’t sing in New York or London, how are people supposed to know you? Maybe Americans can do it, but we can’t.
Poborský: Today the soccer elite is in England, Italy, and Spain. The Czech league has many high quality, talented young players, but unfortunately, here the market is not so great as to be able to pay the very best players as much as they can get abroad. So they have to go abroad. Either they fail or succeed even there, joining the elite.
Both of you are seen as rebels in your fields. How does a person become a rebel? Isn’t it something of a planned image?
Pecková: I’ve noticed that I don’t say what people expect from me. Whether as an opera singer or a woman, or some sort of star – I hate that word, “star” – everyone expects everything except for what I always say without thinking. I just express myself spontaneously, so maybe that’s why.
Poborský: I agree. If I have a certain opinion I just say what I think. Journalists often think that I’m stuck up, because I don’t give interviews of the type: How did you play today, Why did you win? If someone wants to know, he ought to come to the stadium to watch, and if he doesn’t, he won’t read the interview either. Should I say we’re going to win? It’s logical, of course, it’s my job (laughs).
Do you think image is important in your professions? Has anyone ever pressured you to take on an image you simply couldn’t identify with?
Pecková: Several times I’ve seen a talented lady artist come to a publishing house where they did her nails so they could photograph her for a CD cover. She has on a red dress, she looks like a star, and she looks like she’s playing with claws. If anyone tried to do that to me I’d probably kick him (laughs). I don’t understand why I should have purple hair or red claws on the cover of a Mahler disk. It really ticks me off. These days everyone wants to draw attention to himself, but people forget the content of an image; the spirit inside.
Poborský: True, sports are played on a playing field, but they are promoted by the media. If I displease someone, which has happened many times, then for six months I keep seeing only negative things about myself. Lots of players seek out interviews and media exposure, but I prefer staying calm, in the background.
You both criticize the fact that your professions are dominated by money and that people see you as parasites. If you were to explain what is behind an aria that you sing, behind a goal you score, how you earn your royalties, what would you say?
Pecková: I think you have to make sacrifices for every profession. Everything has a price. But we’re watched in a certain way. Only a person without a clue will sell you his privacy without a thought. But then, when he pays the price, he says, Aha! But you can’t explain this to people.
Poborský: It’s very simple. I’ve been playing soccer since I was five, six days a week, I had no childhood, I went through my adolescence in the locker room. I’m 32 now, and I’m still at it, day after day, summers and winters.I have to think when I can order pork with dumplings, if I can top off my dinner with a glass of beer or not. My family lives a nomadic life. Yes, I’ve earned a lot of money, but I’ve subordinated my entire life to this end.
You’ve both settled down a bit recently. Is the balance between family and career changing, and why?
Poborský: If your family life isn’t going well, your career can’t either. Or at least it wouldn’t go well for me if I didn’t have a family life. My enthusiasm for soccer as a hobby has already vanished. It’s work, uncompromising, professional work, and I put everything into it. But my family is of key importance. I returned to Bohemia, so my son could go to school and my daughter to kindergarten. So we wouldn’t have to live like nomads. So my kids could feel at home and have a smooth upbringing.
Pecková: Mr. Poborský’s case is a classic one. The man builds a career, the woman stays at home with the kids. I waited a fairly long time to have children. What I’m living through these days is something I longed for. It was my dream. My profession is now a matter of money and image to a great degree, and once you see through all that, you say: Music is a beautiful thing, a wonderful internal enrichment, but what do I get out of it? Why sacrifice everything for it? My family brought me back to earth, and I’m glad. Career-inspired inclinations, like, “I’ll show you!” have long since left me.
Careers in your professions are typically limited to a short duration. Do you think this deprives you of something, or conversely, does it enrich you?
Pecková: Well, it does deprive me, but it enriches the people who listen for years (laughs).
Poborský: An athlete’s active life is certainly shorter than a singer’s. We start “dying” at thirty. Here in the Czech Republic it’s fashionable to consider a player approaching thirty as no longer having any prospects. And so we are approaching the end. Some better, some worse… (laughs). I’ve been fortunate to make money. When I hang up my cleats I’ll have security. Fortunately.
Pecková: You’ll lie around by the pool with your feet up. Jesus, how I envy you! When we bought a house in Germany and took out a loan my husband said, “When we’re seventy we’ll have it paid off.” I imagined that I’ll have to go on singing so we can pay it off, and I see these sour faces among the public, as they have to watch that old hag, and it makes me feel ill (laughs).
Have you ever gone to a soccer game?
Pecková: In 1996 I sang the Czech national anthem at the European Championships in England! I sat in the stands next to Boris Becker and his wife. Mr. Havel, who was then the president, sang along with me. I was up on it all, and I knew the names of all of the soccer players. With the passing of time, and a new set of worries, I’ve forgotten all that.
And you, have you ever gone to the opera?
Poborský: Frankly speaking, I’ve never been to the opera. It’s a shame, perhaps, but because my family lives in Hluboká and I live in Prague, whenever I can I race back to them to rest, far away from everyone.
Mr. Poborský, do you think opera in its classic form still attracts the public, or do you think it’s a thing of the past?
Poborský: I think that the opera and the theater are now somewhat marginalized. It’s the same as with sports. In the days when we had nothing, when television was black and white and nothing was on, we were kicking the ball around in front of the house and playing hockey in the winter. That was all the entertainment there was then. I can see it today in my children. They’d rather sit around watching TV instead of doing something else. The theater, opera, and similar things are suffering due to this.
We used to claim to be a soccer and hockey nation. Mrs Pecková, do you think that high-quality sports contests are still as important?
Pecková: I think it’s connected with image and promotion. If you start pounding it into the heads of the nation that someone – an athlete or a singer – is amazing when in fact he or she is entirely average, in some way a star is born. No one cares what’s behind the image, it’s all a matter of money – which is a pity when you realize that sports and culture have been around since ancient times.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Pecková: Still on the stage, I hope. In ten years my son will be in mid-adolescence, and my daughter will be just entering hers. I’ll probably have gone through a difficult change of life, all stressed out, and on top of that I’ll have to make money to pay off the mortgage (laughs). I see my future in very rosy terms.
Poborský: To tell you the truth, I don’t see my future at all. I’ll finish with soccer, and that will be the end.
Pecková: You’ll be lounging by your pool, won’t you (laughs)? Do you have a pool?
Poborský: I do.
Pecková: So you have the prerequisites.
Poborský: Maybe I’ll go into business, but I have no idea what line. I’ll take care of my family, if my children still need me.
Pecková: They’ll always need you in a financial sense (laughs).
How would you like people to remember you?
Pecková: I’d like it if, when they hear Pecková, people would think of integrity and good music.
Poborský: Being a successful athlete is nice, but when they aren’t true successes, they are usually forgotten. I’d like people to see me rather as a happy, straight-shooting person.
(Special thanks to Nostress café where the interview took place.)