WORKS: The Devil and Kate
PERFORMER: Michelle Breedt, Olga Romanko, Peter Straka, Peter Mikulás, Artujun Kotchinian, Carsten Sabrowski, Brigitte Schweizer; Prague Chamber Choir; WDR Radio Choir & Symphony Orchestra, Cologne/Gerd Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: C 777 082 H
The Devil and Kate is an engaging romp. Completed in 1899, it was composed after Dvorák’s return to Prague from New York and reflects his rekindled love for Czech folklore.
The libretto is based on a fairy tale about the adventures of a garrulous spinster who falls for a tipsy devil on a mission to earth to abduct a high-handed princess. Act II is set in Hell where Kate’s insistent scolding sees her rapidly ejected.
The music is vintage Dvorák with a strong vein of lyricism and some imaginative orchestral effects – the prelude to Act II is one of the composer’s most audacious inspirations.
On the whole this is a very creditable performance. Albrecht’s ear for Dvoπák’s exquisite orchestral colouring, notwithstanding a slightly cavernous recorded sound, leads to some remarkably beautiful episodes in the outer Acts. Peter Straka is exceptional as the heroic shepherd Jirka who gallantly volunteers to bring Kate back from Hell, and Peter Mikulás is near ideal as the rather timorous devil, Marbuel. Michelle Breedt is an effective Kate, but Olga Romanko is rather too shrill as the Princess.
While always beautiful sounding, the first Act could have done with more effective comic pacing and there is also an inexplicable misreading of the opening theme of the superbly atmospheric ‘once upon a time’ opening to the overture. More damagingly, Albrecht makes some rather impatient cuts, mainly in Act II. But overall, this performance has many merits and in a limited field is welcome. Jan Smaczny