Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

Un ballo in maschera in San Francisco

The subject is regicide, a hot topic during the Italian risorgimento when the Italian peninsula was in the grip of the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons, the House of Savoy and the Pontiff of the Catholic Church.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Antonin Dvořák: Král a uhlíř (The King and the Charcoal Burner).
09 Jul 2009

DVOŘÁK: Král a uhlíř (The King and the Charcoal Burner)

Years before Antonin Dvořák composed his most famous opera Rusalka (1900), he completed a series of works in the genre which contributed to his reputation and skill in this genre.

Antonin Dvořák: Král a uhlíř (The King and the Charcoal Burner)

Dalibor Jenis; Peter Mikuláš; Michelle Breedt; Livia Ághová; Michal Lehotsky; Markus Schäfer, Prager Kammerchor; WDR Rundfunkchor Köln, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Gerd Alvrecht, conductor.

Orfeo 678062 [2CDs]

$41.99  Click to buy

Dating from the early part of Antonin Dvořák’s career, The King and Charcoal Burner (Král a uhlíř) was composed in 1871, the time when he was also establishing his reputation with his first symphonic works. Even with positive reviews, Dvořák rewrote The King and Charcoal Burner in 1874 and in 1887 revised that version further, with these revisions suggesting that even that late in his career he found the score worth his attention. Interest in the work continued after Dvořák’s death, when t he opera was revised posthumously by the conductor Karel Kovařovic for a new production in 1914. As indicated in the notes that accompany this CD, the version of the work in this recording is a conflation between the composer’s last revisions and the modifications found in the piano-vocal score which contains Kovařovic’s changes. Despite this complicated history, the performance is quite accessible and the music bears Dvořák’s stylistic imprint.

The basis for the opera is the story of a young Czech whose virtue and honesty win him a place in the court of the seventeenth-century Habsburg ruler Rudolf II during the reign of the Bohemia King Matyáš. The first act takes place in forest home of Matěj, the charcoal burner of the title, whose daughter Liduška loves Jenik, but is reticent about that, since her parents would prefer that she not marry another charcoal burner. A lost nobleman finds them, and all they know is his name, Matyáš and that he is a royal huntsman - he did not reveal himself as king. Matyáš seems attracted to Liduška, which arouses Jenik’s jealousy, but those emotions recede with the merrymaking Matěj pursues to entertain their guest before retiring in their cottage for the night.

At dawn Matyáš is already awake, and Liduška, who has also arisen, speaks to the noble about her love for Jenik. Matyáš promises to intercede, but when Jenik finds them, he assumes that Matyáš has other intentions and attacks the king. Matters resolve when Count Jindřich finds Matyáš, who gives Liduška some gold for her family’s efforts. Jenik understand the situation and realizes Liduška’s faithfulness. Yet he is also aware of his poor station and decides to become a soldier to improve his lot. A year later, Jenik’s established himself as a reliable soldier in the court, but he longs for Liduška. Count Jindřich lets Jenik know that the king has invited Matěj and his family to court. However, the king has decided to test Liduška and her family by setting up a fake trial against them, with Jenik informed of ruse. The king claims that Matěj used Liduška to lure him to their cottage with the intention of robbing him before having Jenik the charcoal burner murder the king. He even tells them that Jenik is imprisoned and awaiting execution. Liduška offers her own life in exchange for Jenik’s freedom, and at that point, the king explains the ruse and reveals his identity to Matěj and his family.

A summary of the plot is useful to point out the situations which would inspire Dvořák’s musical imagination. In the first act, the scenes lend themselves to a series of numbers: a chorus of huntsman, a duet between the lovers Liduška and Jenik, a chorus of coal burners, and other pieces. The end of the act also involves popular-sounding music that evokes the peasants’ merrymaking, and the religious idiom of the “Angelus” prayer at the end of the scene. In this act the music is as important as the libretto in setting up the dramatic situation. The scene between the lovers is effective through the lyricism Dvořák used to characterize them and their love, and the roles are sung well by Livia Ághová and Michal Lehotsky. Dalibor Jenis, a singer whose first name calls to mind Smetana’s opera so titled, gives an appropriate tone to the king in disguise, who functions Alidoro in Rossini’s *Cenerentola *in bringing about a satisfying conclusion to the romantic situation. In addition, Peter Mikuláš and Michelle Breedt, respectively Matěj and Anna, Liduška’s parents, command the roles well and work well in the ensembles.

In the second act, the king’s meditation after the orchestral introduction is a fine solo piece for Jenis, who delivers it convincingly, and Liduška’s soliloquy is a parallel to his, with Ághová’s restraint effective for communicating her plight. The duet that follows reflects the influence Wagner had on Dvořák, and while the thematic material is not as overtly similar as it is in the composer’s Third Symphony, the interaction of melodic motives and arioso-like passages involve Wagnerian gestures. Thus, the scene builds when Jenik, portrayed by Lehotsky, enters, and the textures intensify with the addition of chorus. Again, the use of melodic ideas to carry the text give the work a sense of music drama, rather than the kind of number-based idiom of Weber. This fine performance led by Gerd Albrecht brings out the full intensity of Dvořák’s score idiomatically, as found in the nicely paced evocation of a Czech folk tune as a kind of rondo theme in the scene with which the act ends.

As the work resolves in the third act, Dvořák continues to shape the elements into a sonic image of the court in Prague. Here Albrecht demonstrates his mastery of Dvořák’s vocal idiom and balances the sometimes full orchestral accompaniment. The mock trial of Matěj’s family is done well through the efforts of Mikuláš and Breedt, with Ághová’s Liduška’s notable for its lyrical and dramatic focus. The result is a fine performance of this little-known opera, a work which helps to give a fuller sense of Dvořák’s oeuvre. As strong a work as Rusalka is, The King and the Charcoal Burner offers insights into its composers other efforts in opera. Recorded in 2005 and now released by Orfeo, this recording makes this solid performance available with the full text in Czech, German, French and English.

James L. Zychowicz

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):