Dalibor, Opera by B. Smetana
Bedřich Smetana was the main ambassador of the Bohemian musical tradition in the classical world. His works typically celebrate the Czech folk canon and deliver a unique experience for opera and concert goers around the world. This season, Smetana’s ‘sleeper hit’ opera Dalibor enjoys a fantastic revival in Prague and puts the Bohemian composer’s syncretic legacy on full display. There are few better ways to enjoy an evening of refined classical music with an ethnic twist than to immerse yourself in this truly special performance.
Smetana composed Dalibor with great care and dedication, investing himself fully into its heroic narrative. The opera presents the story of the noble knight Dalibor of Kozojed, a Czech nobleman who joins the people’s uprising against the abusive rule of King Vladislav II. The monarch has just expanded his realm of power from Bohemia to Hungary and Croatia, and his ego and greed has no bounds. After the rebellion fails, Dalibor is sentenced to death for the murder of a governor. During the trial, the governor’s sister Milada falls in love with Dalibor and makes it her mission to set him free.
The libretto for Dalibor, as was the case for many of Smetana’s other operas, was the work of German writer Josef Wenzig, with Czech translation by Ervin Špindler. The premiere took place at the New Town Theatre in Prague on 16 May 1868. At the time, the opera suffered from unkind comparisons to the German contemporary tradition. The music was judged to be too close to the style of Richard Wagner, while the plot’s dependence on a strong female character to save the hero’s life was strongly reminiscent of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio. Thus, Dalibor was not an instant success, which left Smetana disappointed.
After the composer’s death, however, the opera enjoyed a series of successful revivals in Prague, Vienna, Munich and Zagreb among others. With thousands of performances to date, Dalibor has come into its own, and the current Prague revival will clearly show you why.