OP0222. HIPPODAMIA TRILOGY - 1. The Courtship of Pelops Op. 31 (1889-91) (Zdenek Fibich; Words by Jaroslav Vrchlicky) - Play in spoken (not sung) Czech with continuous music. Play in spoken Czech (not sung) w. Jaroslav Krombholc Cond. Brno State Phil.; Jaroslava Adamova, Eduard Cupak, Rudolf Hrusinsky, Martin Ruzek, Josef Vinklar, etc.; Directed by Lubomir Pozivil recorded 1981-84 at Stadion Studio, Brno and Domovina Studio, Prague. (Czech Republic) 2-Supraphon SU 3031/32- 616, w.2 Elaborate Libretto 20 & 76 pp. Booklets in Czech & English. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 099925303129
“This massive six and three quarter hour cycle of ‘shock’ melodramas follows the classical story of Hippodamia. The epic story is presented in the form of a radio play with a constant fabric of music underpinning the words and action.
A full set of notes and a booklet of the complete spoken text in both Czech and English. The notes and separate synopsis are in English, German, French and Czech.
What would Richard Strauss have made of this salty gore-stained story? Desire and revenge, tragedy and passion crash and heave like monstrous waves. In Act 1 of the first of the cycle Hippodamia kisses the severed and impaled head of one of her hapless suitors who failed in the contest for her hand. This is years before SALOME.
The balance favours speech at some slight disadvantage to the audibility of the music. The two are woven together but the words are the lead component. In other melodramas or orations more prominence is given to the music. I think particularly of Prokofiev’s EUGEN ONÉGIN where the rollingly magical text seems to achieve an equal symphonic balance with the music.
Fibich clearly invested much effort in HIPPODAMIA and had written three other melodramas what appear now, from this perspective, to be an apprenticeship for this giant of work.
GROVE V speaks of the vast complexity of leitmotivs linked to each of the many characters who populate the triptych and whose bodies lie broken and bleeding throughout the great story. Not to worry; the eloquent pleasures of the music are accessible without having to identify and map out these character signposts.
The cast is consistent across the three dramas and so are orchestra and chorus. The more internationally known Jaroslav Krombholc directs the first drama. Frantisek Jilek conducts the second and third parts.
Fibich is a significant composer who wrote rewarding lyrical music without the revolutionary edge of a Janácek but with a sturdy and often inspired gift for melody and drama. These strong gifts are to the fore in this towering cycle. His orchestration tends towards Dvorák and Smetana but is no empty facsimile of either. I do not know his operas but would expect them to be well worth the effort. In many ways the HIPPODAMIA trilogy is a counterpart for an operatic cycle. He must surely have wondered about it as a sort of Czech national RING. Its themes are universal and in their extremes of emotion will hold the attention. The figure of Hippodamia is not a sympathetic one but is certainly commanding. She is in some ways a combination of Lady Macbeth and Balakirev’s Tamara. Those who would like to learn some Czech (which seems to be precisely though not pedantically enunciated although I confess I do not know the language at all) will, no doubt, find the set worthwhile. The Supraphon catalogue seems quite stable but I would recommend a prompt purchase of this full price set for those at all interested in this lively monument to a fine composer. His music is pretty consistently rewarding and his oeuvre still seems likely to have many agreeable surprises and challenging discoveries for us.
The musical language of the melodramas is tangy but familiar and when mixed with the resonantly acted words makes for a powerful epic experience. Recommended for those who enjoy the Fibich symphonies, Suk’s ASRAEL and Dvorák. I should also have added that the music is quite Tchaikovskian, especially in part 3.”
- Rob Barnett, MusicWebInternational