Dvorak: Rusalka

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Orfeo D’or
WORKS: Rusalka
PERFORMER: Peter Dvorsky, Eva Randová, Gabriela Benacková-Cáp, Evgeny Nesterenko, Alexander Maly; Vienna State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Václav Neumann
CATALOGUE NO: C 638 042 I
When Dvorák composed Rusalka, his ‘Lyric Fairy Tale’, he was completely out of step with the realist tendencies in contemporary Czech opera. And yet it rapidly became a national favourite and continues to exert its charms on audiences. When Mahler approached Dvorák with a view to a production in Vienna Court Opera it was more out of a sense of duty to acknowledge the Austrian Empire’s most substantial living composer rather than any particular liking for his music. Negotiations broke down and it was 85 years before Vienna had a chance to see the opera staged.This State Opera performance from 1987 features two of the great Czechoslovak singers, incidentally both Slovak, of the 1980s, Gabriela Benacková-Cáp (in the title role) and Peter Dvorsky. Benacková-Cáp is in magnificent voice with exemplary diction; Dvorsky is not at his best, sounding strained and occasionally below the note. Critics and audiences responded enthusiastically to this first Viennese outing and there are things to admire in the dramatic pacing in the second and third acts. But Václav Neumann’s reading is both too slow in basic tempo and over-indulgent in its use of rubato. Yet what puts this recording completely out of court is the decision to abandon the two comic roles of the Gamekeeper and Turnspit (Mahler failed to persuade Dvorák to do likewise). Not only are significant tracts of the score missing, but the start to Act II is bizarrely abrupt. From every point of view, Neumann’s earlier account on Supraphon is superior, though even this does not equal the marvellous, vintage set from Zdenek Chalabala. Jan Smaczny

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