WORKS: The Good Soldier Schweik
PERFORMER: Jason Collins, Marc Embree, Kelli Harrington, Buffy Baggott; Chicago Opera Theater/Alexander Platt
CATALOGUE NO: CDR 90000 062
While many will have heard of The Good Soldier Schweik, Hašek’s classic novel about a Czech anti-hero, few will have come across this opera or its composer, Robert Kurka, an American of Czech origin. He had some compositional training with Milhaud, though he was mainly self-educated. This two-acter was worked up in 1957, the year of Kurka’s death, from an orchestral suite composed the year before and was first performed, with considerable success, in New York in 1958, followed two years later by a Czech premiere in Plzen. Unfortunately, none of this information is to be found accompanying this premiere recording; the CD insert is devoted entirely to a series of vivid colour photos of scenes from the opera.
The lack of synopsis or libretto sells this lively score badly short: mostly clear diction and a reasonable balance allow some threads to be picked up, but the lack of guidance on cast and the significance of instrumental interludes leaves even the most willing listener in the dark. Kurka’s musical affinities in this score range between Weill and Gershwin; at times Bernstein is also brought to mind. Schweik is easy and enjoyable listening, but without introductory material, a frustratingly incomplete experience. Jan Smaczny