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The first edition of Antonin Dvorak's Forgotten Opera.

Antonin Dvorak: Alfred.

Czech Radio and the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, v.v.i., Prague, 2014, 368 pp.

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An opera that has been plagued by bad luck. That, in a nutshell, is how we could characterise the fate of Antonin Dvorak's first operatic work, the heroic opera in three Acts Alfred, B 16, to a German text by the dramatist Karl Theodor Korner (1791-1813), in all likelihood composed in 1870. The piece, however, was not performed, and there are no mentions available indicating that Dvorak actually aspired for its being staged - the very opposite seems to be the case, as he did not even include the opera in the lists of his compositions. To all appearances, Dvorak returned to Alfred just once, in 1881, when he revised the opera's overture and gave it the title Tragic Overture. Yet this orchestral piece was not performed during the composer's lifetime either, with its premiere only taking place on 4 January 1905. The opera itself would fall into oblivion for a long time to come, until it was finally staged, with the libretto translated into Czech, in 1938, at the Czech Theatre in Olomouc. More than seven decades would then elapse before Alfred was performed again in its entirety, and with its original German libretto, as a concert version on 17 September 2014, within the Dvorak Prague festival (see also CMQ 2014/3). For that occasion, Czech Radio provided new performance materials, which were produced with the participation of the members of the "Dvorak team" at the Department of Music History of the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In terms of performance and edition practice, the case of Alfred, a stage work by one of the major composers of the 19th and 20th centuries being overlooked for such a long time, is truly extraordinary.

One of the outcomes of the aforementioned team's efforts is the publication of the piano reduction of Alfred, which has made the hitherto virtually unattainable music available to musicians and the general public alike. It concerns the first printed volume of the New Dvorak Edition (NDE). In this connection, the question may arise of its not being a critical edition, as the professionals would expect, yet its indisputable benefit rests in the fact that it is the very first edition of this extensive Dvorak work and that the NDE has thus set out on the path whereby the outputs of the vast edition project are utilisable not only at the level of musicology but also in practical performance terms, which has not been commonplace in the case of complete editions in general. The piano reduction was created in 2012 by the composer Otomar Kvech, yet its final form was the result of revisions which, in accordance with the prepared score with critical comments, were carried out by Marketa Kratochvilova. The German libretto was thoroughly edited by Jarmila Gabrielova, who also refined its translation, as well as stage directions. The edition of Alfred is made up of introductory commentaries in Czech, English and German; the piano reduction itself, which forms the bulk of the publication; and the German libretto, together with a Czech translation, at the end of the volume. Jarmila Gabrielova refers to the English version of the text in the booklet to the CD capturing the opera's concert performance at the Dvorak Prague festival. The piano reduction is elaborated in truly dexterous and lucid terms. Moreover, Kvech has maintained in the score notes pertaining to the orchestra instrumentation, which provide valuable and vital information for the performing singers. The notation itself is very well arranged and legible, with the one and only difficulty being the choice of a larger format of noteheads against the staff, thus resulting in their not being totally clear in places of a thicker typeface on ledger lines, since they rather blend with them upon a cursory glance. The collaboration between Czech Radio and the Department of Music History of the Institute of Ethnology has also positively manifested itself in the overall quality of the editing work. Whereas the sheet music published by Czech Radio often suffers from backlogs and errors, the edition of Alfred is an exemplary, attentively made publication. Coming across as rather mysterious is the missing imprint though.

Now we can only hope that the piano reduction will be followed by a publication of the critical score of Dvorak's Alfred, which is of great significance for the performers (it would be fully sufficient to have the actual parts available for rental). Yet the edition alone is a momentous achievement, one that some no years after Dvorak's death has served to fill in the blank space in the operatic oeuvre of the globally most frequently performed Czech composer, thus erasing part of our debt towards his legacy. The rigorous execution of the edition indicates that we have good reason indeed to believe that the next volumes of the NDE will be approached in a similarly meticulous way.
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Title Annotation:Antonin Dvorak: Alfred
Author:Vytlacil, Lukas M.
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Opera review
Date:Jul 1, 2016
Words:836
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