Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

Peter Grimes in Nice

Nice’s golden winter light is not that of England’s North Sea coast. Nonetheless the Opéra de Nice’s new production of Peter Grimes did much to take us there.

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):