The very successful operas of Antonin Dvorak, the Devil and Kate, are based on fairy-tale motifs. Mixing the native and with a sense of humor lyrical and fantastic elements – one of the typical (and still very popular) traits of Czech dramatic creativity. The theme of this charming opera tale is taken from Bozena Nemtsova in the folk tale of the same name about the impudent and impeccable Kate, the clever shepherd Irka and the deceived devil Marbul. Venue: National Theater in Prague, 25 November 2017.
Dvorzhak created a virtuoso patchwork blanket from the counter scenes – a simple, fresh, devilishly usable and beautiful cousin. Thanks to the inspirational invention with musical motifs and the explorer of the instruments, the Devil and Keith carefully original reproduction from beginning to end, the one that transcends the previous operas of Dvorzhak in many respects. Exquisite decorations and costumes by Adolf Bourne bear the distinctive character of this original and popular apostle. Opera is delivered in the Czech original version and English subtitles are used in performance.
The fairy-tale opera The Devil and Kate was written in the final period of the composer’s life, when he was now writing only programme music and operas incorporating fairy-tale themes. Dvorak was probably encouraged to write his new opera after receiving positive reviews of his symphonic poems based on Erben’s collection of ballads entitled Bouquet. The Viennese press, for example, wrote: “Antonin Dvorak wishes to conquer the stage. His symphonic poems are dramas without scenes, music without singers. We just add singers and we have opera. Music history probably has to write another important chapter: Ant. Dvorak and stage music.”
Dvorak himself later stated that the positive reviews of his symphonic poems ignited his desire to write for the theatre: “After the symphonic poems I was universally acclaimed as a skilled composer of opera, and I can only say that these reviews did influence me.” Through the mediation of the director of the National Theatre, Frantisek Adolf Subert, Dvorak at that time acquired a libretto written by young author and translator Adolf Wenig, entitled The Devil and Kate, which had been awarded first prize in a competition held by the National Theatre Association one year previously. Dvorak’s friends had reservations about the libretto, nevertheless, it appealed to the composer and he decided to set it to music.
The premiere of The Devil and Kate on 23 November 1899 was eagerly anticipated: this was the first stage work that the composer had written after his triumphant return home from the United States. The Dvorak cult had reached its height in the Czech environment and the management of the National Theatre paid particular attention to the staging of the Maestro’s new work. The stage direction was assumed by the theatre’s director, Frantisek Adolf Subert, and the main roles were entrusted to the finest soloists that the theatre had at its disposal. The response from the critics was favourable across the board, and the work was so successful with audiences that another twenty repeat performances were scheduled during that same season.