For all its fame, both in the Czech Republic and beyond, Dalibor
is poorly served by commercial recordings. There seem to be
about half a dozen on the market, but all are blighted either
by poor casting or low hi sound. This new issue, of a 1979 recording
under Václav Smetáček, isn't ideal, but at
least it does the work justice. The Czech cast all have a real
affinity for the music, and while none of their contributions
is stellar, the consistent standard across the board aids the
coherency of the result. The sound quality is not to the highest
standards either, even for 1979, but the digital re-mastering
is sensitively done.
The opera itself is a curious mix of Czech nationalism and Germanic
cultural hegemony. The plot, about an imprisoned freedom fighter,
is clearly indebted to Fidelio, while the music owes
just as much to Lohengrin and Tannhäuser.
Complaints have been made down the years about the amount of
German influence here, but Smetana integrates these elements
well into a work that stands on its own considerable merits.
It's well worth hearing without the visuals; especially the
military marches and atmospheric scene-changes, which go a long
way towards setting the mood and telling the story.
Smetáček gives an expansive reading of the score,
energetic but never dictatorial. He allows the singers all the
space they need for their arias, and the results are all the
more passionate and personal as a result. When Smetana requires
careful control from the podium, Smetáček is always
ready to deliver. The composer often writes long, even crescendos
over the course of one or two phrases, and the even gradation
that the conductor achieves always creates the drama the music
The cast is made up of dependable and confident singers, all
of whom expertly balance passionate expression with clarity
of diction. Vilém Přibyl sings the title role with
an impressively rich tone, although he can sometimes sound a
little strained at the top. He really takes advantage of the
space that Smetáček gives him for his solo arias,
and you get the impression that he has taken full control of
the stage every time he begins to sing. King Vladislav is sung
by the baritone Václav Zítek. His is a big Slavic
voice, which really comes into its own in the lower register.
The pick of the female leads is Naďa šormová
as Jitka. Her tone is intense but always focused, and her diction
Good singing too from the chorus, which is large but never unruly.
The orchestra, the Brno State Philharmonic, are also in their
element with this music, particularly in the marches. The balance
between stage and pit is good, but the sound quality is far
better for the singers than it is for the players. The orchestra
often sounds distant, with the higher sounds, the piccolo in
particular, frustratingly thin of tone.
If that is the price we have to pay for an otherwise impressive
digital transfer, then so be it. The work is still in need of
a good quality modern recording, but given the pride the Czech
musical establishment takes in its operatic repertoire, that
can only be a matter of time. Until then, this version will
serve the opera well. Even when new recordings do appear on
the market, this one will probably remain the budget version