Smetana Dalibor

Author: 
John Warrack

Smetana Dalibor

  • Dalibor

With Jaroslav Krombholc's 1967 Dalibor the only version currently available in the domestic catalogue, a new one was overdue. The work has had, as is well known, an almost sacramental meaning for politically oppressed Czechs, with its story of a hero struggling to free himself from tyrannical imprisonment through the agency of a girl who makes her way into his cell disguised as a boy. There, the often-made comparisons with Fidelio cease, even though both operas have been staged at moments of national liberation. It has not been particularly popular in this country, and is less immediately beguiling than a number of Smetana's other operas; but it includes some of his finest music, and the atmosphere of nobility surviving in the face of tyranny is well sustained, with some splendid writing for the two main parts.
These are well taken by Leo Marian Vodicka and Eva Urbanova. Vodicka sings with a heroic intensity that can embrace the defiant (of his judges) and the impassioned: Dalibor's concerns seem often to centre on his dead comrade-in-arms Zdenek, but his almost instant love-duet with Milada, when she appears bearing a violin for his consolation, is warmly sung by them both. Urbanova's voice can have an edge, but she controls it well, phrases very sympathetically, and judges Milada's turn from avenging termagant to rescuing lover with much intelligence. The old gaoler Benes is charmingly sung by Jiri Kalendocsky, especially as he muses on the grimness of his trade. Ivan Kusnjer and Vratislav Kriz boom away effectively as King Vladislav and his Commandant Budivoj, and there is some nice, fresh singing from Jirina Markova as the country girl Jitka. The orchestra play splendidly for the late Zdenek Kosler, who handles the score gravely but with the flexibility it needs if the action is to be clarified and the momentum sustained: there have been performances which have made a work which is actually very fluently composed sound far too static.
The booklet includes the original German text, together with the standard Czech translation which is naturally sung here. It has some odd misaccentuations, including Dalibor's very first word, ''zapirat'' (to deny), heftily on the second syllable in a language whose accents always fall on the first. This will hardly trouble foreign listeners; but matching the rhymes of German and Czech in the English libretto lead to misleadingly free translation, not to mention some weird locutions. Cries the infuriated Milada, ''Shall I now see him?/My brother's foe?/Blood boils in me/From head to toe.'' The French translation sensibly avoids rhyme.'

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