Janacek: Sarka/Mackerras

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Šárka, Janácek’s first opera, was completed in piano score in 1888 and partially orchestrated before the composer set it aside, unable to obtain permission to use the libretto. In 1918 the now-famous Janácek was finally given the green light, and with his student Osvald Chlubna embarked on a revision and completion of the work, which was premiered in 1925. It would not be until the year 2000 that Janácek’s publisher, Universal Edition, in a joint venture with Editio Moravia, would publish Šárka in conjunction with this recording project. Although the score clearly shows its late-Romantic-period roots (notably recalling the music of Bedrich Smetana), traces of the mature Janácek already can be heard in the music’s nervous energy, asymmetrical phrases, and syncopated rhythms–not to mention the highly individual approach to harmony.

Julius Zeyer’s libretto softens the brutality of the original Czech legend: Ctirad arrives on a white horse to lead Premsyl and his dispirited soldiers in an attack on the rebellious women warriors of Vlasta. Their leader, Šárka, has vowed revenge on all men, and has herself tied to an oak tree as a lure. Upon discovering her, Ctirad falls in love and frees her, and is subsequently killed by Šárka’s warrior maidens. Realizing too late that she did indeed love Ctirad, Šárka returns his body to his men. After expressing great love and remorse, she throws herself upon Ctirad’s funeral pyre.

Eva Urbanová certainly has the voice and the benefit of a native understanding of the Czech language to sing the role beautifully, but she seems less than fully committed emotionally, which is probably why I was not really convinced by Šárka’s love for Ctirad. As Ctirad, Peter Straka’s light voice betrays the flaw in his character that makes him susceptible to Šárka’s deception. Ivan Kusnjer’s proud and strong singing of Premsyl opens the drama excitingly, and the Prague Philharmonic choir’s vibrant singing enlivens all of the various choral characters. Charles Mackerras, who lent his considerable Janácek expertise to the score’s final preparation, conducts the music as one born to it, and the members of Czech Philharmonic clearly delight realizing this neglected music. The recording is well balanced, and makes good use of the generously reverberant acoustic. Thanks to Supraphon for engaging in this important enterprise, one that gives Janácek fans cause to rejoice! [6/28/2001]



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

LEOŠ JANÁCEK - Šárka


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