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Opera in three acts
Libretto by Josef Wenzig
First performed May 16 1868; 2nd edition December 2 1870, Neustädter Theatre, Prague
Translated into German by Kurt Honolka
Sung in German with German & English surtitles. c. 2hrs 30mins, including interval
Introduction, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
Dalibor has been charged with the murder of Count Ploškovic. His case is being heard at the highest court in the land, in the presence of King Vladislav. The people, including Jitka, Dalibor's foster-daughter, follow the hearing carefully. Dalibor's defence: he acted out of revenge for the murder of his friend Zdenko. During the proceedings the chief prosecution witness Milada, the murdered man's sister, is very moved by Dalibor's evidence. She changes her mind and is now determined to rescue Dalibor from a life spent in prison. She is backed by the resistance movement, led by Jitka and her fiancé Vítek. Act 2 The Chancellor, Budivoj, reminds Beneš, the gaoler, that Dalibor must be guarded very carefully. Milada, disguised as a young man, wins Beneš’ trust. When she persuades him to let her take a violin to Dalibor's cell, she manages to smuggle some tools in to help him escape. When Milada reveals her true identity they both beg for forgiveness, and confess their love for one another. Act 3 Beneš confesses to Budivoj that his new helper has disappeared, so must have been a traitor. He pays for his lack of judgement with his life. King Vladislav meets his Chancellor and judges to decide what should be done with Dalibor. The judges demand, despite Vladislav's misgivings, that he be executed, otherwise peace might be jeopardised. Dalibor's attempt to escape is thwarted by Budivoj, the rebellion, led by Jitka and Milada, is quelled and Milada and Dalibor killed.
It was a wonderful holiday. Beer flowed. The foundation stone of the National Theatre in Prague was laid on May 16 1868, opening 13 years later, when anti-Austrian demonstrations reached their first climax, with Smetana's lyrical drama Libuše. The theatre burnt down shortly afterwards. But on that joyful day ten thousand people came to the city from all over Bohemia and Moravia. Bedrich Smetana, the speaker of the Czech artists' guild said: „Czechoslovakia's love is in music.“ His only tragic opera, which he fully intended to be a national opera, was performed for the first time on that May evening at the Heustädter Theatre.
The story of a Czech knight, in the late-Middle Ages, languishing in prison for murdering a tyrant, didn't turn out to be the longed for success work he'd hoped for. Quite the opposite! The composer was accused of being pro-German and – worse still, and not just because of his use of the Leitmotiv – that most un-Czech of all – a Wagnerite. Smetana, whose libretto was originally written in German, was very hurt by this reaction. This enormous work for the stage was, for him, until his painful death in 1884, his biggest headache and best thing he had ever written. He liked to dismiss his Verkauften Braut/The Bartered Bride as a marginal, minor work.
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