A unique recording of the performance of Smetana's opera Libuše at the National Theatre on 29 May 1939, made in Nazi-occupied Prague. The Overture (recorded in 1940) and fragments of Act 3, including "Libuše's prophecy". At the end, the audience sings the Czech national anthem.
Marie Podvalová (Libuše), Stanislav Muž (Přemysl), Vilém Zítek (Chrudoš), Josef Vojta (Šťáhlav), Ota Horáková (Krasava), Marta Krásová (Radmila), Jaroslav Veverka (Lutobor), Josef Křikava (Radovan). Chorus and Orchestra of the National Theatre in Prague, chorus master: Jan Mario Ouředník; Czech Philharmonic (Overture), conducted by Václav Talich
The recording of the concert performance in Nazi-occupied Prague of Bedřich Smetana's My Country (SU 4065-2) conducted by Václav Talich, which took place on 5 July 1939, drew considerable attention worldwide (Special Historic Gramophone Award 2012). It seemed that Talich's discography had thus been rounded off for good. Yet the personal effects of the late soprano Marie Podvalová, renowned for her outstanding portrayal of Princess Libuše, provided yet another gem. A week prior to the mentioned performance of My Country, on 29 May 1939 a recording was made at the National Theatre of Talich's account of Smetana's opera Libuše. Fragments of Act 3 have been reconstructed from the miraculously surviving foils (the present CD also contains the 1940 recording of the Overture). In 1939, Libuše's prophecy in Act 3 of Smetana's opera must have sounded to Czech ears like an immensely bold declaration of national pride and courage. Although incomplete and far from being perfect in terms of the quality of sound, the recording's value is truly immense. It is the one and only recording of an opera conducted by Talich, the oldest surviving transmission of an opera performance from the National Theatre in Prague, and the last staging of Libuše during the Nazi occupation before its performances were strictly banned. The audience's long tumultuous applause and spontaneous singing of the national anthem attest to the moment's enormous emotional gravity, imbuing the recording with exceptional energy.
Talich's unique account of Libuše - a bold manifestation of national pride and bravery in 1939 in Nazi-occupied Prague
“The opera fragments are what make this CD unique, especially the intense portrayal of Libuše herself by the then-young soprano Marie Podvalová, bold, fearless singing, almost always dead in tune like a knife in the heart. Other singers involved include the bass Vilém Zítek, who we’re told hated making records, but what a voice… There are ‘historic’ (ie old) recordings, and historic recordings (recordings of history being made). This release is most definitely in the latter category. Snap it up before the deletion axe beats you to it.” Gramophone, October 2020
“Libuše’s final scene, in which the clairvoyant monarch predicts the historic triumphs of the Czech people and includes the famous line ‚My dear Czech nation shall not perish, it shall triumph over all terrors‘ must have sounded, in 1939, like a bold declaration of national pride. The long and tempestuous applause, during which the audience spontaneously bursts into the Czech national anthem, provide this new release with a unique and touching energy.” Opera+, June 2020
“If Smetana embodied the heroic impulse in his people, so too did conductor Vaclav Talich (1883–1961), the sensationally gifted acolyte of Czech music well documented in the symphonic repertory of Smetana, Dvorak, and Suk… Immense and intensive labors from Milos Guth and Jan Lzicar have managed to reconstruct Act III in its fragmented form, still a brilliant testament to human will and artistic integrity that ends climactically with an inflamed audience – used to holding hands during the aria – moved to sing collectively the Czech National Anthem after their long, tumultuous applause.” Audiophile Audition, September 2020
“Si la distribution fait rêver (impressionnant Zitek, solide Vojta, superbe Krasova), on peine à discerner les intentions de Vaclav Talich tant l’orchestre paraît lointain. Mais la Libuse exaltée de Maria Podvalova excitera les collectionneurs.” Diapason, November 2020
“La scène finale où la monarque professe un avenir glorieux au peuple tchèque a une résonance évidemment toute particulière. La puissance d'émission et le timbre chaud de Marie Podvalová rendent charismatique et vibrante son incarnation du rôle-titre.” Classica, February 2021