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Dvorák, Antonín - Alfred - Förster, Heiko Mathias / Štilec, Marek



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Not much is known about the genesis of Dvorak's first operatic work-specifically why the young composer (at the time a violist for the Prague Provisional Theatre) decided to compose a large-scale historical opera at the end of the 1860s to an over 50-year-old German text. According to the dates penned in the autograph score, we can reliably state only that the opera-or, in actuality, the fair copy of the full score-was written in 1870, and that the composer completed work on the individual acts (and subsequently on the overture) on May 26, July 7, September 9, and October 19 of that year.Whatever the reasons for the choice of text (some Dvorak scholars speculate that perhaps the composer could not afford to use an original Czech libretto because he would have had to purchase the rights to it from the librettist, which was common practice at the time) it is clear that this subject had been used for literary and musical adaptations on numerous previous occasions in the 18th and 19th centuries. The earliest adaptation as a musical drama was Alfred the Great, first performed as a masque (or theatrical play with music) in 1740 at the summer residence of the British crown prince. It was later also presented in London in 1745 as an oratorio, and in 1753 as an opera. The composer of the music, which included the final, oft-cited patriotic song, "Rule Britannia!" that later enjoyed great popularity, was Thomas Arne (1710-1778). The text was written by David Mallet and James Thomson (who later earned his place in music history as the author of the libretto of the Joseph Haydn's oratorio The Seasons). Other works on the subject include an early opera by Gaetano Donizetti titled Alfredo il Grande, performed in Naples in 1823, and the Grand Heroic Opera in four acts, Konig Alfred, by composer Joachim Raff, which was performed in Weimar in 1851. Poet Karl Theodor Korner (1791-1813), whose libretto, Alfred der GroBe, was chosen by Dvorak for the basis of his opera, was a well-known figure during his time as well. Although he died before reaching his 22nd birthday of complications from an injury sustained as a volunteer with the Prussian army in a battle against Napoleonic forces, he nevertheless left in his wake a fairly extensive and remarkably mature body of work that included poetry, dramatic plays, as well as several operatic librettos. His collected works, first published in 1834 through the efforts of the poet's mother, were published a number of times-and seemingly without any alterations-before the end of the 19th century.As a librettist, Korner was valued by his contemporaries as well, and his poetic and dramatic texts were set by composers such as Carl Maria von Weber and Franz Schubert. Alfred der GroBe as a libretto is sophisticated and skillfully written, with an understanding of the possibilities and principles of operatic dramaturgy of the time. The plot, originally divided into two acts, is relatively simple. Its background hints at the influence of Rescue Opera, a genre popular at the turn of the 19th century, which is defined as an opera with spoken dialogue whose main conflict lies in the protagonist finding himself or herself facing grave danger and certain death, only to be successfully rescued in the end. The subtext of this particular storyline, which praises and celebrates the victorious battle between early Britons and hostile invaders, clearly parallels the patriotic efforts of the Germans in the final phases of the Napoleonic wars. At the same time, it seems that this libretto does not in any way limit its application to other techniques or adaptations for musical drama, including those that were not fully developed until the rise of French Grand Opera around 1830. The primary characteristic of Grand Opera is the composition and arrangement of expansive "scenic pictures" (tableaux), where the chorus plays a prominent role as the "collective hero," into which individual solos and duets-as well as a diverse variety of ensembles-are organically incorporated.There is every indication that, in his composition of Alfred, Dvorak was leaning towards this newer and still topical dramaturgical treatment. In his setting of Konig's text, Dvorak set the first act to music with almost no changes, but had divided Konig's original second act into two parts, and ultimately truncated the text somewhat by eliminating one of the ensembles (a duet) of the secondary characters, Roven and Sieward. In light of the fact that this is the composer's first operatic work, it is important to mention that Dvorak was able to demonstrate a remarkable assurance-primarily in his comprehension and treatment of the implied operatic dramaturgical techniques. This, in my opinion, resulted in a viable musical drama that deserves at least the occasional performance on today's operatic stages, almost 150 years after its composition. The challenges, however, for its performance are not small, and some solo parts (Alvina, Harald) are vocally quite exposed.There is no record of whether the composer had ever attempted to have Alfred performed during his lifetime at the Provisional Theatre, the National Theatre in Prague, or any other German stages in the Czech lands or elsewhere. We only know that he worked on a concert arrangement of the opera's overture at the beginning of the 1880s, and in this context also reviewed and revised his autograph score. However, this performance never occurred, and the piece was performed and subsequently published under the title Dramatic (Tragic) Overture only after Dvorak's death, in 1905 and 1912, respectively. The first performance of excerpts from the opera in the original language were presented on February 6, 1938 during a German broadcast at Czechoslovak Radio in Prague. Soon after, in December of 1938, the opera was premiered in Czech translation at the Olomouc municipal theatre. Due to the tense political situation of the 2nd Czechoslovak Republic at the time and the impending occupation by Hitler's German forces (which took place a few weeks later in March 1939) the opera was evidently performed only once during this run.The first recording of Dvorak's Alfred, therefore, at least partially repays the decades-long debt to the composer, whose operatic opus (perhaps with the exception of Rusalka) has yet to gain recognition, and stands in the shadows of his successful orchestral and chamber works. At the same time, it also provides enthusiasts the unique opportunity to familiarize themselves with one of the key works of the composer's early period, and to gain a better understanding of the direction of his creative development in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Fakta
Artikelnummer UP0140
Streckkod 8594029811409
Utgivningsdatum 2015-02-21
Kategori Opera
Skivbolag Arco Diva
Enhet CD
Antal enheter 2
Utövare
Artister Froese / Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno / Prague Ra
Dirigenter Förster, Heiko Mathias / Štilec, Marek
Kompositörer Dvorák, Antonín
Disk: 1
1 Alfred
Disk: 2
1 Alfred
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