Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 8
This is the first commercial recording of this opera in 30 years and listening to it will remind fans just how delectable a work it is. The performance captures the opera’s often elusive poignancy; it is too easy to play it as slapstick on the one hand or with condescension on the other. Here conductor Jirí Bélohlávek seems to get it just right. There’s pathos without sentimentality and wit without mockery.
Until now, aside from a German-language version (with the unparalleled Fritz Wunderlich and Pilar Lorengar) and a mediocre English-language set on Chandos, Supraphon has had close to a monopoly on this work, and its 1980 recording is still marvelous. This new version uses a British orchestra and chorus, but fear not: the cast and conductor are Czech. Not to be nationalist, but if there’s any way to tell the difference at all, it’s in the lack of folksy peasantry you feel with the Czech orchestras and choruses—or I may be imagining that. This is simply beautifully played, and for the most part, sung—and felt. The non-aria-or-duet moments are vividly expressed by the singers; this plays like a staged performance (it was, in fact, recorded in concert).
All of the singers are new to me, and the leads are splendid. Soprano Dana Burešová as Marenka has a grander sound than we’re accustomed to in this part, but it allows her to stand her ground more fiercely. Her top notes gleam, and she can sing with great warmth as well, as she does in Act 3. Aleš Voráček is a wonderful Vašek—innocent, sweet, and not really the dullard he’s often made to seem. Tomáš Juhás has a fine voice as Jenik, and he also is not afraid to sing out: when he and Marenka go at it, it’s time to get out of the way. I found Jozef Benci’s Kecal a good portrayal—full of self-importance—but vocally he cannot stand up to, say, Gottlob Frick, in the German-language performance. The others are colorful and vivid.
The great overture sets the tone nicely; it is energetically, busily played, the strings rushing about, and the woodwinds seem to be interrupting and gossiping, right up to the overture’s final moments. The brass blare out with triumph at the start of Act 2. I’m not certain that this performance takes the place of either the Supraphon or the Wunderlich (although the latter is sui generis), but it’s terrific.
Buy Now from Arkiv Music
Recording Details:Reference Recording: Supraphon; This one
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