Heiko Mathias Förster / Marek Stilec

Antonín Dvorák: Alfred

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The early opera of Antonín Dvorák recorded here definitely falls into the historical oddity category. It's in German, not Czech, set to a libretto by a poet long dead by 1870, when the work was composed, and it is unknown why Dvorák would have undertaken such a sizable project. The subject is a British king, Alfred the Great, who also inspired the opera by Thomas Arne that contains Rule, Brittania, and even shows up in the Vikings television miniseries. Although it was primarily Brahms off whom Dvorák's deepest ideas bounced creatively, the dominant models in this opera are Wagner (or the emerging mainstream simplification of his language: those who've heard Arthur Sullivan's Ivanhoe might be reminded of that work) and, in the active use of the chorus, French grand opera. The music is ponderous in spots, and some might argue that the whole thing doesn't quite hang together, but there are also impressive passages like the 15-minute overture (it's almost as if the composer was itching to get back to instrumental music), and those interested in the early part of Dvorák's career will be interested to see how he picks apart the structure of the libretto. The work is convincingly performed by a cast of largely unknown (at least internationally) Czech and German singers, and conductor Heiko Mathias Förster and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra keep things moving along. The live sound from the Rudolfinum (not Rudofinum, as the graphics have it) is better than expected, and the opera seems to have held the attention of the audience. Not something to rewrite the history books, and there is very little of the mature Dvorák in it, but at the same time it is of considerable interest to those who love this composer and are especially intrigued by his long years of struggle.

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