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Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Dvĕ vdovy (The Two Widows) (1874 revised 1877)
Maria Tauberova (soprano) – Karolina
Drahomíra Tikalova (soprano) – Anežka

Ivo Zidek (tenor) – Ladislav
Eduard Haken (bass) – Mumlal
Antonín Zlesák (tenor) – Toník
Miroslava Fidlerová (soprano)- Lidunka
Prague National Theatre Chorus
Prague National Theatre Orchestra/Jaroslav Krombholc
rec. Rudolfinum, Prague, November-December 1956
SUPRAPHON SU 3926-2 [56:08 + 68:37]

This is still the front-runner as far as I’m concerned - even though it was recorded over half a century ago. It was taped with a first rate cast in the Rudolfinum under Krombholc and I don’t think anyone has surpassed him since, not even himself in a 1974 broadcast issued on Praga.

Let’s start with the orchestra. Though this is a small, domestic comedy there’s no reason why the band should be at all apologetic or recessive. And they most certainly aren’t. Their rhythm is tremendously resilient and assured, the corporate sonority stirring, blended and powerful and the wind principals characterful and personalised. Krombholc, whose insight into operatic Smetana was profound, was just the right man for this opera and he directs throughout with sure pacing and eloquent control. One example will suffice; the urgency and expressive truthfulness of Act II Scene V’s Odcházejí spolu where Anežka’s own feelings are vividly reflected and amplified by the taut incision of the orchestral writing – really magnificently accomplished all round.

The cast is pretty nearly ideal. Some have felt them lacking distinction but not me. Maria Tauberova is full of verve as Karolina – her trill is good, she has no wobble, her coloratura impresses. She makes a fine foil for the Anežka of Drahomíra Tikalova; their voices offer sufficient tonal contrast and yet fuse so well together in their exchanges. Eduard Haken turns in his drolly cavernous turn as Mumlal; turn to the buffo hilarity of Act II’s Nechť cokoliv mne zlobí as evidence of prime Haken in full flow. Ivo Zidek is a suave and amusing Ladislav – note his asides in the Trial scene. More plausibility is added by the convincingly youthful Antonín Zlesák’s Toník and Miroslava Fidlerová’s Lidunka. The roles are relatively small but there’s no underestimating the dramatic realism of these kinds of voices.

The chorus is vigorous and maybe a touch raw but that’s not inappropriate in the context and they’re assuredly well drilled.

The booklet has full libretto in Czech, English, German and French and there is a good introduction with cast biographies and photographs. The later Supraphon Two Widows conducted by Jílek was strongly inferior to this earlier one and the Praga [PR250 022/3] though dating from 1974, and with similarly marvellous conducting, featured a less enticing cast. If you can locate it however and are not too distracted by the 1948 radio sound I would strongly suggest you try to hear the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra broadcast under Ančerl which featured three of the singers on this commercial set - Tauberova, Haken and Fidlerová – and adds the magnificent Beno Blachut, the greatest Ladislav one could imagine [SBB 003-07-02]. Otherwise this 1956 Supraphon is still your Two Widows of choice.

Jonathan Woolf


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