The Devil's Wall

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The Devil's Wall
Opera by Bedřich Smetana
The composer around 1883
Native title Čertova stěna
Librettist Eliška Krásnohorská
Language Czech
Premiere 29 October 1882 (1882-10-29)
Nové České Divadlo, Prague

The Devil's Wall (Czech: Čertova stěna) is a comic-romantic opera in three acts, with music by Bedřich Smetana and libretto by Eliška Krásnohorská, in their third operatic collaboration. The subtext of the plot is a Czech legend of a sheer rockface that overlooks the Vltava river, near the old monastery of Vyšši Brod, where the Devil was said to have halted the building of the monastery by damming the Vltava, which then rose and flooded the site.

Krásnohorská had originally intended her scenario to be serious in nature, a symbolic representation of the conflict between the Church and the Devil. By contrast, Smetana had wanted a less serious treatment. She acceded to his demands and provided such a scenario, but then Smetana changed his thinking on the story. He reworked the plot such that he turned the young girl, Hedvika, into a surrogate for Lord Vok's late first wife, and the story became more serious in that aspect. As a result of these changes, Krásnohorská and Smetana did not have contact for a year and a half, and Smetana made substantial changes to Krásnohorská's submitted libretto without her input, deleting up to 500 of her original verses.

Smetana completed Act 1 in March 1881, and Act 3 in April 1882. The opera was first performed on 29 October 1882, at the Nové České Divadlo (New Czech Theatre) in Prague. The premiere was not successful, with difficulties including the staging and the wildly conflicting appearance of two singers whose characters were supposed to resemble each other. In spite of the tensions between librettist and composer, Krásnohorská attended the premiere and defended Smetana, to the point of keeping silent on criticism directed towards the libretto, of the changes which she herself did not sanction.[1]

Performance history[edit]

The first UK production was by University College Opera, in London, in February 1987.[2]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 29 October 1882[3]
(Conductor: Adolf Čech)
Lord Vok baritone Josef Lev
Záviš contralto Betty Fibichová
Jarek tenor Antonín Vávra
Rarach, the Devil bass Josef Chlumeckÿ
Hedvika soprano Irma Reichová
Katuška soprano Marie Zofie Sittová
Michǎlek tenor Adolf Krössing
Beneš bass Frantisek Hynek




  1. ^ Fifield, Christopher, "Smetana and The Devil's Wall" (February 1987). The Musical Times, 128 (1728): pp. 78-80.
  2. ^ Dean, Winton, "Music in London: Opera - The Devil's Wall (April 1987). The Musical Times, 128 (1730): , pp. 217-221.
  3. ^ Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "The Devil's Wall, 29 October 1882". Almanacco Amadeus (Italian).


  • Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan, The Oxford Dictionary of Opera New York: OUP: 1992 ISBN 0-19-869164-5