Dvorák’s Wanda

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

Wanda is an opera that, it’s hard to refute, goes on too long. Clocking in at slightly more than two hours and 40 minutes, the less-than-compelling plot centers around Wanda (soprano), a Polish Pagan Princess, her requited love for the low-born knight Slavoj (tenor), the Pagan High Priest (bass) who opposes their union and who wants to crown Wanda queen, and the Christian-German prince Roderich (baritone), who wants Wanda so that Poland can be part of Germany (what else is new?). It was Dvorák’s fourth opera and he was going for grand: there are battle scenes, mano-a-mano fights, a coronation, pagan ceremonies, and a hymn or two. In Act 4 Wanda promises to sacrifice herself to the gods if Poland remains free; in Act 5 she makes good on her promise to the sorrow and patriotism of her people. You really have to be in the mood.

To be frank, much of the music is thrilling–Dvorák at his best–but, as suggested above, there are dead spots. The choral writing is fine, occasional lyrical moments between Wanda and Slavoj please the senses, and I’m sure that the battle scenes must be captivating live; but there’s also some bombast, musical noodling, and set-ups for moments that fizzle out. But that’s grand opera, let’s face it. Wanda is potently, if not very beautifully, sung by Olga Romanko, who seems to relax into the demanding part as the opera progresses; as her beloved Slavoj, Peter Straka has great urgency and staying power. Pavel Daniluk’s High Priest blusters along uninterestingly and Roderich, nicely sung by Ivan Kusnjer, is not given very interesting music by Dvorak–a pity. The chorus sings well and the sound is very good. So–this is for Dvorak completists and an interesting discovery for those who like their opera “big”.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none

ANTON DVORAK - Wanda (Vanda)

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