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Dvorak: The Devil And Kate / Albrecht, Cologne

Dvorak / Wdr Sinfonieorchester Koln / Albrecht
Release Date: 05/26/2009 
Label:  Orfeo   Catalog #: 777082  
Composer:  Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Olga RomankoPeter StrakaPeter MikulasMichelle Breedt
Conductor:  Gerd Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio ChorusPrague Chamber ChorusCologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DVO?ÁK The Devil and Kate Gerd Albrecht, cond; Michelle Breedt ( Kate ); Peter Straka ( Jirka ); Peter Mikuláš ( Marbuel ); Olga Romanko ( Princess ); Prague CCh; Cologne West German RSO & Ch ORFEO 777 082 (2 CDs: 113:27 Text and Translation) Read more

I reported on this opera in detail in Fanfare 32:2. Czechs love it for its wealth of dance music, but it lacks the gorgeous melodies we expect from Dvo?ák, and it has no lovers, so no love music. It also has two plots that have nothing to do with each other, pasted weakly together without much rhyme or reason: Kate’s temporary visit to hell, and the rescue of the townspeople from a cruel princess and her evil steward. I refused to choose between the decently sung and played Chalabala, a 1955 studio recording in dreadful monaural sound, and a lackluster 1979 performance (Pinkas) in decent stereo. I also claimed that the opera didn’t travel, but it has now reached Cologne safely.

While I usually miss the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in any “foreign” recording, neither of those Supraphon issues was played by that great ensemble. The Czech spirit has been brought along by Albrecht, who was the CPO’s principal conductor from 1991 to 1996—I believe the only non-Czech ever to hold that post. He has been building a catalog of Dvo?ák operas ( Vanda, Armida, The Jacobin, King and Charcoal Burner ) and oratorios ( The Specter’s Bride, Saint Ludmila ) on the Orfeo label, starting with the CPO ( Armida ) and continuing in Hamburg and Cologne.

Kate is a garrulous loudmouth who scares away all suitors; the role is usually sung in a rough-and-tumble style that is appropriate for the character but less than pleasing to the ear. Breedt’s mezzo is smooth and warm, which might not work well on stage but is welcome on a recording. Straka’s bright, manly tenor is just right for Jirka the shepherd, the hero who first rescues Kate from hell and later prevents the Princess from being taken there. He is the star of the show. Mikuláš’s potent baritone makes for a strong but sly Marbuel, the minor devil who lures Kate to hell. Most of all, Albrecht fills the music with lively spirits and keeps everything moving along. The Cologne orchestra is superb; it could be mistaken for any in Prague short of the CPO. The recorded sound is rich and well balanced.

All this makes The Devil and Kate a delightful listening experience; it comes alive as never before on discs: the final track in act I, as Marbuel seduces Kate away from the dance and down to hell, is delicious, mysterious music, of a kind I had not heard from Dvo?ák before. At last, the baritone-to-bass devils in hell are individually distinguishable, and the entire second act is a joy, as they try to rid themselves of Kate, who loves all the attention and doesn’t want to leave. With act III, we switch to the second story line. Faced with being dragged to hell, the Princess begs Jirka to save her; he convinces her to renounce her cruel ways, etc., etc. This limp story inspired Dvo?ák to some of his most dramatic music, some of it soaring and grand, but the soprano has an unroyal wobble. Nevertheless, Albrecht and his orchestra conquer all, aided by now-glorious sound. This fine representation of The Devil and Kate at last suggests why Czech audiences love the opera. Kudos to Albrecht and to Orfeo!

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Kate and the Devil, Op. 112/B 201 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Olga Romanko (Soprano), Peter Straka (Tenor), Peter Mikulas (Bass),
Michelle Breedt (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Gerd Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Chorus,  Prague Chamber Chorus,  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1898-1899; Bohemia 

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