WORKS: The Cunning Peasant
PERFORMER: Václav Zítek, Eva Depoltová, Karel Berman, Karel Prusa, Jitka Sobehartová; Prague RSO & Chorus/Frantisek Vajnar
CATALOGUE NO: SU 0019-2 DDD
The Cunning Peasant is the sixth of Dvorák’s eleven operas. Although eventually overshadowed by the success of The Jacobin, it was popular in Prague for a number of years – unsurprising, since the opera is full of attractive melody and witty characterisation. The story is a kind of rural Bohemian variant of The Marriage of Figaro. While the libretto is a stodgy affair, Dvorák’s lightness of touch and skilful deployment of symphonic development keep the story bowling along while allowing pause for moments of captivating lyricism: just try the first two scenes of Act II.
Frantisek Vajnar is not entirely at home with Dvorák’s comic manner, and he also allows a couple of footling and unnecessary cuts, but he keeps things on the move. None of the vocal performances, apart from Karel Berman as Martin, is outstanding and even he is replaced, owing to illness, in places. Among the women, Jitka Sobehartová is mostly charming as the female lead, in marked contrast to the hard-edged sound of Eva Depoltová as the Princess. Flawed as it is, this recording provides a fascinating glimpse of Dvorák in his favoured role as an opera composer. Jan Smaczny