Notes and Editorial Reviews
Younger than Smetana and Dvorak, Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900) is with them a pilgrim founder of Czech national music. Supraphon have already brought us, both in 78 days and more recently, a certain amount of his music, notably excerpts from the opera The Bride of Messina; and we have learnt that his prevailing tone is a dark, grave lyricism. Here now we have a complete opera, on a curious subject that fascinated more than one Czech composer.
The Czech dynasty—so legend had it— was founded by Prince Prernysi and Princess Libuse, each of whom had a council of rulers of their own sex. When Libuse died, her women were denied any share in the rule of the country. They resented this, and with Sarka as one of their Amazonian generals,
declared war on the men. One episode in this war—which ended in the destruction of the rebellious women—was the capture by Sarka of Ctirad, one of Premysi's most gallant lieutenants. Sarka had herself bound to a tree, as the bait in an ambush into which Ctirad fell. Fibich adapted the story—you will probably have guessed how: Sarka and Ctirad fall in love, and love proves stronger than loyalty. To save Ctirad's life, Sarka betrays the women.
In the first act we find the spirited Sarka rousing Viasta and her companions to rebellion. The men arrive in the sacred grove to sacrifice ; Premysi sings an eloquent lament addressed to Libuse, and Vitoraz leads the ceremony with the solemnity proper to bass high priests. But the women burst in suddenly like so many angry suffragettes, demanding their rights. Sarka challenges Ctirad to a duel; he laughs at her. War between the sexes is declared. So far the music tends to be low-toned, dramatic in a fairly effective way in the action passages, but not particularly striking.
The heart of the opera is the second act. There is a dramatic prelude, and a fierce scene where Viasta's troops, who have had initial victories, assemble with their spoils including the bloody head of a well-known woman-hater. Then Sarka, with her patrol, prepares the ambush. There is a beautiful aria in which she muses on the hatred for Ctirad which is so nearly love, and this merges into a passage, curiously Straussian in effect, where her companions assure her that she is indeed lovely enough to entrap the warrior. The voices twine and cradle one another in a magical ensemble. Sarka has a second aria, to a " Forest Murmurs accompaniment, as she awaits Ctirad. Later there is a love duet; ecstatic as (like Tristan and Isolde) they realise that their hatred is turned to love, then lyrical as (like many another pair of operatic lovers) they gaze at the night, and at the shining Stars. In the last act Sarka leads the men to the women's stronghold where Ctirad is prisoner. The women are slain, but their bloody ghosts rise up to disturb Sarka, who flees from Ctirad's embrace and hurls herself over a precipice.
Gramophone [August, 1958]
Works on This Recording
Sárka, Op. 51 by Zdenék Fibich
Ludmila Hanzalíková (Alto),
Marta Krasova (Mezzo Soprano),
Marie Podvalová (Soprano),
Lubomir Havlak (Tenor),
Vaclav Bednar (Baritone),
Milada Subrtova (Soprano),
Jaroslava Vymazalová (Soprano),
Marie Zalabáková (Contralto),
Jaroslava Dobra (Soprano),
Miloslava Fidlerová (Soprano),
Jaroslav Veverka (Bass)
Prague National Theatre Orchestra,
Prague National Theatre Chorus
Written: 1896-1897; Bohemia
Date of Recording: 1953
Venue: Prague National Theatre
Sarka: Act I, "Shadows of Departed Souls"
Sarka: Act I, "Dead! My Arrow Flew Straight to Its breast!"
Sarka: Act I, "Sarko - It's you! - You Too Are Wandering"
Sarka: Act I, "With Grieving Hearts"
Sarka: Act I, "Oh You Fainthearted Maidens!"
Sarka: Act I, "Welcome, Mighty Premysl, Our Ruler!"
Sarka: Act I, "Our God Eternal, Ruler of the Light"
Sarka: Act I, "Oh You Men, You Boastful Vipers!"
Sarka: Act I, "In the Sacred Name"
Sarka: Act I, "Arise, Vlasta!"
Sarka: Act II, Introduction
Sarka: Act II, "Halt! We Have Reached Our Goal!"
Sarka: Act II, "Hoy! Sisters, Goog Health!"
Sarka: Act II, "Be It a Chasing Race! Hoyo!"
Sarka: Act II, "The Hatred Creeps Like a Dark Shadow"
Sarka: Act II, "Enough Is Said! Time Speeds On!"
Sarka: Act II, "Silence Reigns All Around"
Sarka: Act II, "The Silver Moon Rises"
Sarka: Act II, "Woe! Help Me!"
Sarka: Act II, "Yes, Indeed, I Hated You!"
Sarka: Act II, "You Are Mine, And No One Will Take You Away!"
Sarka: Act II, "Woe! Away! Quickly Away!"
Sarka: Act III, "You Have Led Me and My Men of Arms"
Sarka: Act III, "You Hve Led Me and My Men of Arms"
Sarka: Act III, "Hear Me, Eternal Sky"
Sarka: Act III, "Where Have You Brought Me, Awful Treachery?"
Sarka: Act III, "A Court of Justice Has Examined"
Sarka: Act III, "I Am Not Afraid, O, Cold Death"
Sarka: Act III, "The Time Has Come!"
Sarka: Act III, "Look How Weak I Am"
Sarka: Act III, "This Is My Work!"
Sarka: Act III, "Look - Over There!"
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