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.