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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Dvorak: Saint Ludmila

03/17/2013 13:00
03/17/2013 16:30

 

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

On this last Sunday in Lent, I'm bringing out for a third airing our station's old Supraphon recording of Antonin Dvorak's oratorio St. Ludmila. I had presented this same three-LP set on two previous occasions during the Lent/Paschal season, first on Sunday April 6, 1986 and again on March 11, 2007.

A thousand years ago the pagan Czechs received Christian missionaries from the West, representing the Roman Catholic faith, and from the East, bearing with them Slavonic Orthodoxy. A Bohemian princess named Ludmila sided with the the proselytizers from the East. A power struggle ensued within the royal house of Bohemia over the conversion of Ludmila to Orthodox Christianity. She was assassinated and soon came to be revered as a holy martyr. The cult of St. Ludmila served in later centuries as a rallying point for Czech nationalism. Her martyrdom was exactly the right subject for the leading nineteenth century Czech nationalist composer to set to music.

Dvorak's St. Ludmila premiered in Birmingham. England in 1886 with great success. (The English public have welcomed new oratorios like this since the time of Handel, and the Victorians also very much liked Dvorak's music. ) Supraphon, the old Czechoslovak state record label, recorded this masterwork in1965, when Vaclav Smetacek conducted the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, with five vocal soloists.