Dvorak: The Devil and Kate

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: The Devil and Kate
PERFORMER: Milos Jezil, Anna Barová, Daniela Suryová, Richard Novák, Jaroslav Horácek; Brno Janácek Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Jirí Pinkas
CATALOGUE NO: 11 1800-2 AAD
Convinced that his destiny lay with stage works, rather than symphonies or chamber music, Dvorák devoted his last seven years to opera. Of the three works composed in these years, Rusalka is the best known.

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Though popular in its day, The Devil and Kate has not really made its mark outside the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Based on a Czech folk tale, the opera, in the course of three very jolly acts, takes its heroine Kate down to hell – where she manages to alarm Lucifer himself – and back to earth again, where she plays a crucial role in freeing the serfs.

Despite a complete lack of love interest – virtually unique in Czech comic opera – the opera has abundant lyricism. Showing a real gift for comedy, Dvorák draws his characters with care and sympathy. The humour even extends to the dance numbers, the best of which is the hilarious Act II ballet.

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This issue is a timely CD transfer of a recording made in 1979. While the performance is certainly more than serviceable, it has nothing like the fun and sense of theatre of Chalabala’s vintage 1955 recording. Few of the characters emerge with any real conviction and the combination of slowish tempi with a large acoustic projects an unduly static feel. This said, the singing is distinguished and the orchestral contribution marvellously vivid. Jan Smaczny