The complete recording of Johnny's Kingdom, the final opera by Otakar Ostrčil (1879-1935), a remarkable fairy-tale work with an antiwar message, is now being released on CD for the first time. It is based on L. N. Tolstoy's short story about a land ruled by the good-natured Ivan (transformed in the opera into Honza, or Johnny) who knows not what spite is. In his kingdom, soldiers do not wage wars, yet dance and love, all diseases are cured and people are happy. Honza brings to all the people the miraculous star of compassion, love and peace, possessing so great a power that it even cures the incurable Princess and prevails over the Devil himself. When the opera was premiered in Brno (1934) and subsequently presented in Prague, it gave rise to a conflict between Ostrčil and a part of Czech society. The reason why the work, in which Honza fights with the Devil, striving to conquer the world, became a sensation was that it was staged shortly after Adolf Hitler had seized power in Germany. In the wake of World War II, another four productions of Johnny's Kingdom were created in Prague and Brno, with the most recent one receiving its premiere in 1959. The present CD features the one and only studio recording of the opera, made in 1954 by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Ivo Žídek, Jaroslava Vymazalová and Přemysl Kočí singing the lead roles. The CD also contains a unique recording of Ostrčil's Calvary, Op. 24, made in 1957 by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Václav Neumann.
A unique recording of the undeservedly overlooked opera on CD for the very first time.
“Musikalisch bietet die Oper eine reizvolle Mischung aus arios angelegten Gesangspartien, volksmütlich-bunten Chorszenen und einem spätromantisch geprägten Orchesterfundament, das sich am schönsten in den farbprächtigen sinfonischen Zwischenspielen entfaltet.” Orpheus, October 2017
“This radio performance, in clear sound of archival tapes, was broadcast in January 1954 with a top-quality cast led by the young Ivo Žídek, whose plangent lyric-heroic tenor is familiar from many later Supraphon recordings. Velvet-voiced Přemysl Kočí, the leading Czech baritone of the time, is an insidiously worldly-wise Devil. As the Princess, Jaroslava Vymazalová reveals a bright, warm soprano which records well.” Opera, December 2017
“It is a valuable document excellently played by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under the distinguished Václav Neumann … These two works make an ideal coupling and the peace message of Jack’s Kingdom should have something to say to all peoples at a time when spite and hatred seems to be the norm of the day.” MusicWeb International, December 2017
“The Supraphon remastering engineers have done a decent job on what appear to be intractable original tapes. In considerably better (mono) sound, the bonus is a half-hour set od 14 orchestra variations that would more helpfully be known under the English title of The Stations of the Cross.” Gramophone, December 2017
“Créée à Brno en 1934, l'oeuvre est vingt ans plus tard admirablement défendue par Václav Jiráček et la fine fleur de l école tchèque… Le diable venimeux de Přemysl Kočí ne viendra pas à bout du Honza lumineux d'Ivo Žídek, antithèse de ses vilains frères Ivan et Ondřej, un Antonín Votava et un Zdeněk Otava d'une impayable présence… Le Chemin de croix, variations pour orchestre très narratives, d'une grandeur sombre et poignante, dirigées par un superbe Václav Neumann – qui réenregistrera ce chef-d'oeuvre. L'amateur de musique tchèque ne fera pas l'impasse.” Diapason, April 2018