Opera Scotland

Dalibor

Music
Bedřich Smetana (born Litomyšl, Bohemia, 2 March 1824; died Prague, 12 May 1884)

Text
German text by Josef Wenzig, in a Czech translation by Ervín Špindler.

Source
Original.

Premières
First performance: Prague (New Theatre), 16 May 1868.
First UK performance: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 17 August 1964.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera première: Edinburgh (Festival Theatre), 3 September 1998.

Background
Smetana is regarded as the founder of Czech musical culture. His cycle of symphonic poems Ma Vlást has gained iconic status and he composed a group of operas which became the prototypes of folk-based comedy, historic tragedy, and heroic pageant. Dalibor represents the second of these, though it has more to do with legend than historic fact. It has a highly dramatic storyline, and is filled with a glorious stream of beautiful melody. However its international success has been limited, partly because the pacing is not well contrived, and more important, the plot bears a close resemblance to Beethoven’s Fidelio, without producing the same catharsis at its climax.

Few operas have made three appearances at the Edinburgh Festival since it started in 1947, but Dalibor is one such. The National Theatre, Prague, gave its British premiere in 1964, and that production by Václav Kašlík and Josef Svoboda was repeated in 1970. Scottish Opera mounted its own production in 1998. The only other British staging was mounted by ENO in 1976.

Main Characters
Vladislav, King of Bohemia (baritone)
Dalibor, a knight (tenor)
Budivoj, Captain of the Guard (baritone)
Judge (bass)
Beneš, the gaoler (bass)
Vítek, Dalibor’s squire (tenor)
Milada, sister of the Burgrave of Ploskovice (soprano)
Jitka, Dalibor’s ward (soprano)

Plot Summary
The action takes place in Prague at the end of the 15th century. Dalibor is about to be tried for murder. The Burgrave of Ploskovice had murdered his friend Zdeněk. Dalibor in revenge killed the Burgrave. The dead man’s sister, Milada is determined that Dalibor should be executed for his crime, but his conduct in court converts her to his cause. When he is sentenced to death she decides to rescue him. To do this she disguises herself as a boy and gains employment in the prison, working for the gaoler Beneš. Dalibor has requested a violin to allow him to pass his time in prison, and Milada is allowed to take this to him. She takes the opportunity to explain to him who she is and how she plans to effect his escape. Her attempt to bribe the gaoler fails, and in the subsequent revolt she is mortally wounded. She dies in Dalibor’s arms and he is then led off to execution.

RECORDINGS

SUPRAPHON (2 CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1950

Conductor: Jaroslav Krombholc
Prague National Theatre Orchestra
Beno Blachut (Dalibor), Marie Podvalová (Milada), Václav Bednář (Vladislav).

All three of the recordings by Prague’s National Theatre are excellent and show a level of consistency across the generations which says much for the performance of opera in the Czech Republic. Beno Blachut was the company’s leading tenor in the post-war years, and gives a wonderful performance, just as he did at the 1964 Edinburgh Festival. Likewise, Krombholc is superb, getting wonderful lyrical playing from the orchestra. The quality of the sound, either of the original tape or the result of digital processing, is stunningly good. The sound is only mono, but that hardly seems to matter. Podvalová has the odd moment of shrillness, but that is true of all the sopranos who tackle Milada.

SUPRAPHON (2 CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1995

Conductor: Zdeněk Košler
Prague National Theatre Orchestra
Leo Marian Vodička (Dalibor), Eva Urbanová (Milada), Ivan Kusnjer (Vladislav).

This performance in modern sound may be the first recommendation on that ground alone. Otherwise there is little to distinguish from the two earlier recordings. As usual with the Prague National Theatre there is a sense of a company who know and love their own repertoire. For anyone who saw the David Pountney production by Scottish Opera in 1998, this will remind them not only of the excellent Leo Marian Vodička in the title role, but also of Jiří Kalendovský, who also sang Beneš in Scotland.

SUPRAPHON (2 CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1967

Conductor: Jaroslav Krombholc
Prague National Theatre Orchestra
Vilém Přibyl (Dalibor), Naděžda Kniplová (Milada), Jindřich Jindrák (Vladislav).

For some, this recording is the one to have, since they will have seen many of these performers in Edinburgh either in 1964 or 1970. Vilém Přibyl’s international career began as a result of that first trip to the Festival, and while the others tended to stay as members of their home company, the standard of their performances is still excellent. Kniplová has a larger voice than some interpreters of Milada – she also sang the big Wagner roles, but the voice is also well controlled. Again the recording quality is fine but for the occasional shrillness from sopranos on high notes, and Krombholc gives a more dramatic performance than he did in 1950 – not better or worse, just highlighting different elements of this wonderful score.

The Cast

Beneš
 a gaoler
Budivoj
 captain of the guard
Chief Judge
 
Dalibor
 a knight
Jitka
 Dalibor's ward
Milada
 sister of the Burgrave of Ploškovice
Vitek
 Dalibor's squire
Vladislav
 King of Bohemia

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2017

Site by SiteBuddha