Eugen Suchoň (Born Pezinok, 25 September 1908; died Bratislava, 5 August 1993)
The composer and Števan Hoza
Novel Ze vyšným mlynom (Over the Upper Mill) by Milo Urban.
First performance: Bratislava (National Theatre), 10 December 1949.
First performance in UK: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 27 August 1990.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.
Along with his contemporary Cikker, Suchoň is recognised as one of the two greatest Slovak opera composers of the post-war era, and The Whirlpool has been, by some margin, the most frequently performed of their operas. Its idiom is easily approachable, including numerous episodes of dance music, and owing much to Janáček’s more lyrical works, especially Jenůfa and Kátya Kabanová. However, it is when compared directly with masterpieces of that quality that its shortcomings become apparent, since he undoubtedly lacks the genius of the earlier master, and the libretto is nothing like as tightly structured. On that basis, The Whirlpool was given a rough ride by most critics when it received its single British performance. Perhaps that judgment was slightly harsh, since good second-rate works should still be heard from time to time.
Katrena, a village girl (soprano)
Ondrej Zimoň (tenor)
Old Štelina, father of Jan (bass)
The action takes place in a rural community. At the outset, two girls, Marka and Zuzka, friends of Katrena, come across a dead body in a forest clearing. They recognise the victim, who has clearly been shot, as Jan Štelina, who was engaged to Katrena. When the villagers assemble, Jan’s father accuses Katrena of causing his son’s death. Katrena’s relations are aware that she is pregnant and want her married off before she is disgraced. Ondrej loves her, and having been questioned by the police, and released due to lack of evidence, agrees to marry her. The wedding festivities are interrupted by a bitter Štelina, who accuses Katrena of faithlessness towards his son. A few months later, the baby has been born, but her friends comment that Katrena always seems to be crying. In spite of Katrena’s own relations talking of the baby being premature, it is noticed that its face resembles Jan rather than Ondrej. Old Štelina agrees to a reconciliation with Katrena in order to have contact with the child he believes to be his grandson. Ondrej, meantime, has become a heavy drinker with violent tendencies. In one of his drunken rages he finds his way to the forest clearing where he had murdered Jan, and, during a form of mad scene, recognises that he is compelled to confess to his crime. When the villagers find the shepherd boy firing an army rifle they question him, and he admits that he had seen Ondrej bury it, and so had dug it up. Štelina at last knows he has evidence of Ondrej’s guilt, and the murderer begs to be shot with it. Štelina refuses, and Ondrej is taken away by the police.
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