dramatic end of the plot is furthered when we hear Lucifer and Marbuel discuss that the real object of his trip above was to get the Princess and her steward. In and among these two plot strands, there is a Dance of the Tortured Souls, which is really just a fun, rousing Slavonic Dance, lightly disguised. Even the devils don’t want to deal with the likes of Kate, yet, stubborn as always, she refuses to leave. Jirka and Marbuel figure a plan to bribe her. Then, Marbuel dances with her, leading her outside the gates of hell, which are then slammed shut, to the rejoicing of all the devils. The third act begins with the dramatic element holding sway for the first time - the Princess, whom we meet for the first time, sings a magnificent aria, reflecting on her life and regretting her misdeeds. Though a huge switch in tone from what has come before, this aria lets Dvorak’s knack for melody and lyrical expression fly. The dramatic and comedic elements combine in the plot’s denouement. Jirka informs the Princess that the only way he might be able to save her from hell is by freeing the serfs in her kingdom. This done, Jirka tells Kate that Marbuel will be coming back, and that she can
have her revenge on him. When Marbuel does appear, Kate steps into the room, causing him to scream and fly away, leaving the Princess in peace. The grateful Princess makes Jirka prime minister, and gives Kate money and a fine house as a reward, assuring her the possibility of finding a husband. The opera ends in general rejoicing by all. Having its roots in fairy tale (like Rusalka), the plot of The Devil and Kate is simple and, to our 21st century mentality perhaps, a bit hokey. This fact, and the fact that it is written in Czech, are the two biggest reasons for the opera’s neglect, I feel. If done with a light touch and sensitivity, however, the opera could be a charming and successful antidote to the endlessly recycled warhorses that hold sway now. Dvorak, whose orchestration skills are often underappreciated, gets to run wild with the suspenseful music when Marbuel appears. Of course there are also beautifully lyrical spans, fully demonstrating the composer’s facility with melody. This opera is due for a big-stage production. Though it is done with regularity in the Czech Republic, the only U.S. performance I know of is St Louis way back in 1990.
YouTube links: Overture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALlQHLw5ZYg The Devil’s Dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXXidTnOF6A The Princess’ aria from Act III: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex6ZjJWSr_Q Lawrence Axelrod is a composer, pianist and conductor in Chicago. He also leads the successful tour company Opera Adventures, which offers trips both domestically and abroad to see opera. Next stop is Vienna in April 2014! Please visit www.operaadventures.com for more information.
Disease and Opera