The Secret (opera)

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The Secret (Czech: Tajemství) is a comic opera in three acts by Bedřich Smetana. The libretto was written by Eliška Krásnohorská. The premiere took place September 18, 1878 at the Nové České Divadlo (New Czech Theatre) in Prague.

Background[edit]

Krásnohorská proposed the idea for a new opera to Smetana two weeks after the opening of The Kiss, but kept details of the plot a secret from the composer until July 1877, when a draft outline, drawing on several sources, including Les femmes et le secret by La Fontaine, was sent to him.[1] The librettist had set the action in the small town of Bĕlá in the Bezdĕz mountains, visible from Smetana's home in the country. Fighting his increasing deafness and resultant depression, Smetana made a few small changes to Krásnohorská's original draft and delivered a full score to the New Czech Theatre on 4 August 1877, for the premiere in September.[1] The through composition evident in The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and Libuše is absent; a pot-pourri overture prefaces a sequence of choruses, duets, arias and ensemble pieces, but the characters are portrayed with more feeling and drawn from life, rather than the more stock characters of The Bartered Bride and The Two Widows.[1]

Performance history[edit]

The opera was not as successful as Smetana had hoped; after its opening run, it was seen only a dozen more times during his lifetime and was unperformed for twenty years after that. In 1922 it came back into the repertory of the Prague National Theatre.[1]

The UK premiere was in Oxford in 1955 under Jack Westrup, and it was performed at the Camden Festival in 1972 under Vilém Tauský.[1]

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 18 September 1878[2]
(Conductor: Adolf Čech)
Blaženka, Malina's daughter soprano Marie Zofie Sittová
Bonifác, veteran soldier bass František Mareš
Vít, a huntsman, Kalina's son tenor Antonín Vávra
Kalina, a councillor baritone Josef Lev
Panna Róza, Malina's sister contralto Betty Fibichová
Malina, a councillor bass Karel Cech
Skřivánek, a singer tenor Adolf Krössing
Jirka, a bell-ringer tenor Jan Sára
The Ghost of Barnabáš bass Ferdinand Koubek
An entrepreneur baritone Leopold Stopniockÿ
The innkeeper soprano Marzová
Chorus: Councillors, neighbours, boys and girls, threshers, bricklayers,
shadows and apparitions, bagpipers.

Synopsis[edit]

Twenty years before, Councillor Kalina had asked for the hand of Róza Malinova who turned him down because of his lack of wealth. Kalina then married a woman of similar status. Róza never married and regrets having rejected Kalina.

Kalina has had a house built for himself across the town square from the Malinas’. He is now widowed but puts on a show of wealth. He is unaware that his son Vitek has fallen in love with the daughter of his rival councillor, the brother of Róza. Kalina discovers by chance an ancient document and map which contain directions from an old friar Barnabáš, how he might find treasure hidden under Mount Bezděz. As he is in debt, Kalina determines to take the prompts of the friar. However, the tunnel he digs leads him to underneath a room in the Malinas’ house, where his son has been making his farewells to his forbidden love Blaženka.

It becomes clear that the aim of the old Barnabáš was to make Kalina discover his ‘treasure’: his old love Róza. The opera ends happily, with a double wedding.

Recordings[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ a b c d e Large B. Smetana's 'The Secret'. Musical Times, May 1972, 452-4.
  2. ^ The Secret performance history at amadeusonline.eu
Sources
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan, The Oxford Dictionary of Opera New York: OUP: 1992 ISBN 0-19-869164-5