PERFORMER: Olga Romanko, Irina Tchistjakova, Peter Straka, Pavel Daniluk, Ivan Kusnjer; Prague Chamber Choir, WDR Radio Choir & SO, Cologne/Gerd Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: C 149 003 F
Dvorák’s fifth opera, Vanda, is one of his most scandalously neglected compositions. Written in 1875, after the String Serenade and the Fifth Symphony, it benefits from both works’ lyricism. A clouded and desperately limited performing tradition has led to most commentators, very few of whom had even seen the score, dismissing it as a failed grand opera, full of longueurs and poorly assimilated Wagnerisms. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vanda, based on the tale of a Polish princess who sacrifices her life for victory over the German invader, if not an unqualified masterpiece, is full of marvellous things; for example, the first-act Romance – one of Dvorák’s finest tenor arias – and the magnificent set-piece finales of the first two acts. There are glamour, melody and drama aplenty, and the numinous conclusion of the opera is genuinely moving.
All credit to Albrecht and his forces for bringing this work so memorably to life. Based mostly on an excellent performing edition by Alan Houtchens, it gives a more complete text of the work than has been heard since the 19th century. The results at every stage are impressive. Olga Romanko’s Vanda, though convincingly heroic, is at times a little strained with some occasionally approximate Czech, but Peter Straka’s reading of the hero, Slavoj, is full of ardent conviction. This recording far supersedes the vintage Supraphon version (SU 3007-2), which in any case presents barely two-thirds of the score, and magnificently rehabilitates this richly attractive opera. Jan Smaczny