Opera Scotland

Two Widows Dve Vdovy

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

Text
Emanuel Züngel.

Source
Play Les deux veuves (1860) by Jean-Pierre Felicien Mallefille.

 

Premières
First performance: Prague (Provisional Theatre), 27 March 1874.
Revised version: Prague (Provisional Theatre), 15 March 1878.
First UK performance: London (Guildhall School of Music and Drama), 17 June 1963.
First performance in Scotland: Perth (Perth Theatre), 21 May 1979.
Scottish Opera première: As above.

 

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. After those he turned to a series of operas that are almost like mature romances. The humour is gentle and good-natured, and the characters tend to be fully three-dimensional. The Two Widows was the first of these, based on the transfer of a French comedy to a rural Bohemian locale. The music is hugely attractive, full of Bohemian dance music in varying moods, and it is a thoroughly warm-hearted comedy based on the contrasting characters of the two cousins.

 

Characters
Karolina Zaleská, a widow (soprano)
Anežka Miletinská, her cousin, also a widow (soprano)
Mumlal, game-keeper (bass)
Ladislav Podhájský (tenor)
Lidunka, a peasant girl (soprano)
Toník, a peasant boy (tenor)

 

Plot Summary
The action takes place in Karolina’s country house in a contemporary setting (i.e. the 1870s). She is a widow, of independent attitude, no longer in mourning, who has taken happily to the administration of her estates. She has living with her a cousin, Anežka, also widowed, still dressed in black, who is less happy, The gamekeeper reports a problem with a persistent poacher. This is Ladislav, who had been a suitor for Anežka before her marriage, and is now trying to contact her again. He allows himself to be arrested, Karolina, as magistrate, puts him on trial, and condemns him to be detained under house arrest (in her own house).

Anežka continues to resist Karolina’s efforts to persuade her to take the suitor seriously. The next step is for Karolina to pretend to take Ladislav for herself. Within Anežka’s hearing, she invites him to a village dance. Anežka at last realises that she is now jealous of Karolina and changes out of her widow’s weeds into a ball-gown in time to meet Karolina and Ladislav as they come back. After a further brief misunderstanding the truth is revealed and Anežka and Ladislav are united.

RECORDINGS

SUPRAPHON (2 CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1956

Conductor: Jaroslav Krombholc
Prague National Theatre Orchestra
Maria Tauberová (Karolina), Drahomíra Tikalová (Anežka), Ivo Žídek (Ladislav).

This recording by Prague’s National Theatre is excellent in almost every way. For a performance this old the sound is quite excellent and the orchestral playing is very good. Krombholc’s conducting injects a vivid sense of drama with plenty of contrast between the lyric and dramatic sections of the score. The singers are all good. It is particularly pleasing that both sopranos sing with sweet tone, no extraneous wobble, and none of the shrill tone traditionally common in Eastern Europe but so objectionable to western ears. Ivo Žídek gives a thoroughly enjoyable interpretation of Ladislav. It is good to hear him early in his career, given that he later returned to Britain singing heavier roles in Edinburgh and York. Eduard Haken delivers the character role of the gamekeeper Mumlal with a delightfully fruity bass.

PRAGA (2 CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1974

Conductor: Jaroslav Krombholc
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Jana Jonášová (Karolina), Marcela Machotková (Anežka), Miroslav Švejda (Ladislav).

This performance in more modern sound is not as consistently good as the 1956 version. Marcela Machotková is very good as Anežka, the shy and withdrawn widow. Even better is the tenor Miroslav Švejda. He is beautifully youthful and sweet. Krombholc does not produce quite the range of lyrical contrast he managed earlier, but the orchestra still provides much pleasure. The drawback with this set lies in the casting of two of the principal roles. Dalibor Jedlička sounds surprisingly light and baritonal in the part of Mumlal. He sings well and projects plenty of character, but somehow the voice just sounds too lacking in ballast. In the central role of Karolina, Jana Jonášová sings accurately and has excellent coloratura technique. Nor does she wobble, but the sound of her soprano is simply strident, with a seriously penetrating quality, which does reduce enjoyment.

The Cast

Anežka Miletinská
 Karolina's cousin, also a widow
Karolina Zaleská
 a wealthy widow
Ladislav Podhájský
 
Lidunka
 a peasant girl
Mumlal
 a gamekeeper
Toník
 a peasant boy

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