PERFORMER: Gabriela Benacková-Cápová, Václav Zítek, Antonín Svorc, Leo Marian Vodicka, Karel Prusa, René Tucek, Eva Depoltová, Vera Soukupová. Prague National Theatre Chorus & Orchestra/Zdenek Kosler
CATALOGUE NO: 11 1276-2 DDD
Smetana’s monumental opera Libuse immediately preceded his series of popular symphonic poems, Má vlast. It too dwells on the theme of Czech nationhood, drawing on a legend about an early Bohemian princess who by marriage founded the great Premyslid dynasty.
Libuse was chosen for the opening of the Prague National Theatre in 1881. Its static, ceremonial character and use of leitmotif have affinities with both Liszt and Wagner – not only Lohengrin and Die Meistersinger, but also Das Rheingold, which Smetana heard in Munich just before embarking on Libuse.
This outstanding live recording was taken from the production with which the Prague National Theatre reopened in 1983. The atmosphere is tangible. Strings, wind and superlative brass furnish spectacular instrumental detail, from the opening fanfares (pre-echoes of Janácek) to Libuse’s glorious final vision.
There are no weak links in this all-Czech cast. Benacková-Cápová, a reconciling Marschallin figure, is authoritative as the adjudicating princess, whose right to rule is challenged. The lower voices are generally strong. The sub-plot waxes a bit thin, but Eva Depoltová, wide-vibratoed, appeals as the idealistic lover who almost fires a rebellion. The rustic chorus is slightly less well honed. Wagner buffs will not be disappointed. Roderic Dunnett