Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

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):