Dvorak: Vanda

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Vanda
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.

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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