Smetana: Dalibor

Reviewed on Fri 01 Jan, 2016

An all-Czech cast, led by the clearly smitten Jiři Bělohlávek at the helm of a BBC Symphony Orchestra firing on all cylinders, provides more persuasive advocacy for this melodically rich, dramatically gripping, emotion-saturated opera than even Jaroslav Krombholc’s pioneering 1950 recording.

If you think The Bartered Bride is Smetana’s operatic masterpiece, think again. In this revelatory live recording (of concert performances at London’s Barbican Hall) of its immediate successor, Dalibor – a Wagnerian-accented tale of knightly ideals, chivalry, love and loyalty – vividly claims the crown. An all-Czech cast, led by the clearly smitten Jiři Bělohlávek at the helm of a BBC Symphony Orchestra firing on all cylinders, provides more persuasive advocacy for this melodically rich, dramatically gripping, emotion-saturated opera than even Jaroslav Krombholc’s pioneering 1950 recording (reissued on Supraphon CD in 2001). Richard Samek provides an heroic portrait of the titular knight and receives strong support from Jan Stava’s long-in-the-tooth gaoler, Ivan Kusnjer’s appropriately regal king, Aleš Voráček’s personable messenger, the nimbly sung peasant of Alžběta Poláčková and Svatopluk Sem’s stentorian officer. But it’s Dana Burašová’s Milada that steals the show with a performance of passionate and poetic authority. A pity the libretto (available online) isn’t included, but for Czech music devotees this is highly recommended.
–Michael Quinn