Novak's score of radiance, lyricism, & earthbound beauty.
David A. Hollingsworth | Washington, DC USA | 05/11/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a winning recording, not only due to the music, which embodies the best of Czech musical traditions established by Smetana, Dvorak, Fibich, and later Janacek, but also due to the performance which captures the vividness and the spirit of the music flawlessly. The opera reminds me why it was well received during and after the May 13th, 1923 premiere in the Prague National Theatre conducted by Otakar Ostrcil. The additional twenty to twenty-five produtions of this work in Czech theatres for the next eighty years may be surprising (I sure was), but perhaps this recording will do much to awaken interests in the Czech Republic and abroad.Based on the play of Alois Jirasek, the four-act opera "Lucerna" ("The Lantern") tells a story of a young Miller who's in love with his foster-daughter Hanicka. As Act I unfolds, Michal, however, have the same feeling towards her. By tradition, the millers still have the duty to accompany the lords to the forest hunting-lodge with a lantern, even after they were freed from selfdom. The Steward, in wanting Hanicka to serve at the mansion, plans to limit the Miller's freedom by cutting down his ancient linden tree. In Act II, the young Princess passionately confesses her love for the Miller, who have thoughts only of Hanicka. In scene four, the Princess's beautiful aria "And that exactly is why I wish to meet him. I find no comfort in deference" portray a woman so much in love with the Miller and yet so bored and alone with what she has. Knowing that he cannot refuse to accompany her to the hunting-lodge, the Princess (Act III) started flirting with him. The flirtations are interrupted by a comic band of musicians led by Zadicek. One of the musicians is Michal's wife, who made him carry her own lantern to the lodge. After finely wrought and magical interlude, Ivan, another water-sprite appears and is met by the Princess and Miller. Klaskova follows the Miller & warns him of the Steward's plans. Miller vows to defend his rights. In Act IV, Hanicka hides from the balieffs in the tree. The wood-nymphs enters and then disappears. The Miller rushes to protect the tree, but the magic inside it glows and Hanicka exits its trunk. The Princess began to understand the tree's importance as a guardian as well as a witness of the struggle for freedom. Therefore, she breaks the lantern and Miller becomes free from his bond.Quite a symbolic story and quite a music. And what's amazing about Novak is his ability to paint the picture behind the story with winning effects. It's as though there's the kaleidoscope variety in the characters with the mood reflected by a wide expressive palette, from simplicity in the folklore-like arioso to something more expressive and melodramatic-though not overwhelmingly so. The scene IV aria of the Princess (in Act II) is sort of both; simplitic in articulation but overwhelming with emotions of love, loneliness, and boredom. The colourism of the score is quite something. Listen to, for example, the brief prelude for Act III, which is altogether sumptous and with upmost flair that even Kodaly would have love to claim as his own (his Summer Evening comes to mind with the language Pan European in character). The opera is wonderfully orchestrated in an idiomatic sense and does great justice to the best of Czech musical traditions. The performance shall be credited for much of this album's success. Let me say upfront that Frantisek Vajnar paces the work euphoniously. Nothing bland or overindulgent can be said here and I admire his ability in re-painting the picture that's totally faithful to the score. The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus respond with total artistry and imagination. That said, I cannot imagine a more better cast than what we have here. Jana Jonasova (Hanicka) sang with command yet with such an underlying warmth. But the same must be said in Eva Depoltova's portrayal of the young Princess, which is so heartwarming that you may just want to leap from the bush like a tiger and rescue her, her soul, her persona. Vaclav Zitek (Miller) is commanding too, and sang convincingly of the character very much in love yet determined not to be inhibited no matter from what source. Vojtech Kocian (Michal) is agreeable throughout as is Karel Berman (Steward/Balieff). This CD album is well prepared (minus a synopsis) and well re-issued, with the recording quite vivid yet faithful to the magic behind Novak's score. I shall hope that this album will awaken interests in both the theatres and in the more private of settings, for anyone who enjoy his symphonic poems as well as Janacek's operas (like the Cunning Little Vixen) will derive a great deal of pleasure from this rather under-performed operatic score.And that's what I'm willing to bet on with every ounce of confidence!"