DVORÁK:  Rusalka
Renée Fleming (Rusalka); Ben Heppner (The Prince); Franz Hawlata (The Water Goblin); Dolora Zajick (Jezibaba); Eva Urbanová (The Foreign Princess); Ivan Kusnjer (The Gamekeeper); Zdena Kloubová (The Turnspit); Dana Buresová, Hana Minutillo (Wood Nymphs); Ivan Kusnjer (A Huntsman); Kóhn Mixed Choir; Czech Philharmonic Orch/Sir Charles Mackerras, cond.

LONDON 460 568 (3 CDs) (F) TT:  57:27 / 46:40 / 58:51

DVORÁK:  Wanda
Olga Romanko (Wanda); Irina Tchistjakova (Bozena); Peter Straka (Slovoj); Pavel Daniluk (Heidnischer Hohepriester); Ivan Kusnjer (Lumír); Michelle Breedt (Homena); Ivan Kusnjer (Roderich); Prager Kammerchor; WDR Rundfunkchor K–ln; WDR Sinfonieorchester K–ln/Gerd Albrecht, cond.

ORFEO C 149 003 (3 CDs) (F) (DDD) TT:  162' 48

Wanda, the fourth of Dvorák's nine operas, preceded by Alfred, The King and the Charcoal-Burner, and The Pig-Headed Fellow, had fallen into oblivion after its premiere in Prague in April 1876. Perhaps the primary reason was that it was not based on Czech subjects but rather a story from mythology of neighboring Poland. In this five-act opera, Vanda, after the death of her father Prince Krak, takes over leadership of Vavel, the old citadel of Krakow. The German Prince Roderick wishes to marry her but she is in love with the Polish knight Slavoj; her refusal to marry Roderick leads to a war between the Polish heathens and German Christians. Vanda pledges to sacrifice her life to the gods permitting the Polish to conquer the militarily superior Germans. She must keep her oath and throws herself into the Weichsel River at the end of the opera.

It isn't clear who wrote the libretto. Alan Houtchens, North American musicologist and Dvorák authority, prepared the edition for this recording. The score was lost during World War II. Houtchens "put it all together" from surviving manuscripts, the printed libretto, orchestral parts and the piano reduction of 1875, with encouragement from Gerd Albrecht who conducts this recording made in conjunction with Westdeutschen Rundfunks K–ln over a two-week period in mid-1999. It is another in Orfeo's series of modern recordings of Czech operas. The score is rather unadventuresome for Dvorák. Love music for Vanda and Slavoj is surprisingly unsensual, there's a "witch's dance" in the third act that doesn't even suggest the subject, and Vanda's final apostrophe before jumping into the river surely could have been far more dramatic.

The performance surely seem committed. If you don't object to the rather strident, typically Slavic soprano sounds of Olga Romanko and Irina Tchistjakova as Vanda and Bozena, you'll probably get much enjoyment from this early Dvorak opera. The German Orchestra and  zech Chorus are excellent. CD notes are in German, English and French; however the libretto, unfortunately, is only in Czech. The somewhat detailed synopsis is helpful although track numbering for the final act is incorrect, as are some of the photo identifications.

Nothing is wrong in any way with Decca's 1998 recording of Rusalka.  It's a magic, if rather static, opera filled with glorious music. RenČe Fleming, at her radiant best, is magnificent as the ill-fated water-nymph. Ben Heppner is equally fine as the Prince who doesn't understand her, and the supporting cast could not be bettered.  You perhaps could say that best of all is the luxurious Czech Philharmonic under Sir Charles Mackerras's knowing direction. Decca's engineering has captured the beauty of the CPO as never before, with voices perfectly balanced. Fine CD notes and a complete Czech/English libretto. There is no need, ever, for another recording of Rusalka.

R.E.B.(March 2001)