Give the devil his due
A. Grossman | Florence, Oregon USA | 05/13/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kate and the Devil is a unique opera in many ways, esspecially for one written by a great romantic composer. There is only one extended aria and it is sung by a secondary member of the cast. There is no love story. The heroine is very unattractive and unlikeable. And the Devil of the title is a pushover. Even Lucifer is a comic prop. And it is fun!
The opera is almost like a long Slavonic Dance and there is much dancing by the wonderful cast. As in Offenbach's Orpheus in Hades, Hell seems like a jolly place to visit. And, at 110 minutes, the time just flies by.
Verdi, Wagner and Puccini lovers will stick up their noses at this opera but I loved it.
It would be interesting to see what the Met could do with this piece but they would never touch it as it is so far beneath them. If they did try it they would bloat and smother it with excesses. So, if you want to have some fun and two hours fly by, what more could you want. This DVD is probably your only chance to ever go to Hell and enjoy it!"
Infectious piece but performance only good
Bob Epstein | Minneapolis | 05/04/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'd love to more enthusiastic about this English-language performance of Dvorak's delightful "The Devil and Kate." But while having some attributes it deserves better than this 1988 Wexford Festival Opera performance from south-eastern Ireland. As this is its only entry on DVD, however, we can't be too choosy right now.
"Rusalka" aside, Dvorak is not known for operas. Most of his efforts in the medium were written prior to 1882, before he began to hit his prime, and generally had little success and recognition. From 1882-97 he was in his prime, writing his last three symphonies, his late chamber music, the Cello Concerto and only one opera, "The Jakobin." In his last period, he wrote three operas, "The Devil and Kate," then "Rusalka," and lastly, the unheralded "Armida."
Just as Smetana deserves more opera performances than "The Bartered Bride" (how about "Dalibor," Smetana's echt-"Fidelio"), Dvorak deserves more than just "Rusalka." "The Devil and Kate," written five years after the Ninth Symphony, is full of folk-like charm, sprightly dances, delightful village choruses, infectious orchestral interludes, ample humor and a joie de vivre that are thoroughly winning. Sadly it doesn't receive many performances in the U.S., its premiere being only in 1988 in Berkeley, Calif.
The story resolves around Kate, a frumpy lass who can't find a dance partner at the village dance. She says she'll even dance with the devil. Lo and behold, a minor devil, Marbuel, appears, charms Kate, dances with her and promises to take her to his "red castle." Arriving in hell, however, isn't what Kate expected. The devil, fortunately, is pretty inept, no match for strong-minded (and strong) Kate, and the ensuing complications, albeit a bit slight, are charming.
Wexford is to be applauded for simply staging this marvelous piece. There is humor in the performance, a simplicity of staging that has its innocence and appeal for such a folk-oriented tale, and some pretty good singing from the male leads.
Anne-Marie Owens has an infectiously sturdy and feisty stage presence as Kate. The devil should never have messed with her! But Owens voice is shrill in its upper reaches and at forte and can be hard to listen to. The other prominent female, Kristine Ciesinski, as the Princess, looks fetching but sounds even more hooty, hard-edged and forced.
The men do better. Joseph Evans, as the shepherd Jirka (who has agreed to rescue Kate in hell), has a pleasant, light, lyrical tenor which has a good deal of charm and appeal. Peter Marbuel, as the Devil, offers some pretty decent, well-rounded vocalizing and portrays the rather bumbling devil well, bringing out the humor in his scenes, although he is hardly menacing (perhaps Czech devils are kinder than ours).
Unfortunately, the filming is almost entirely out of focus in the hell-oriented Act 2, bathed often in a red light which somehow makes the action looks fuzzy. Too bad since there are some imaginative touches, especially in this act. Generally the small Wexford stage does not inhibit the action at all, bringing out much of the charm of the work. Occasional amateurish moments in direction and acting can either be viewed as fitting for such a direct, folksy story or worthy of some more polish, more finish. I would have welcomed some more of the latter.
It would be preferable to have this sung in Czech but we can't be choosy right now. The English translation does have a certain cadence that often fits the music well. The Radio Telefis Eireann Symphony plays decently and with enthusiasm under Albert Rosen, who unfortunately misses some of the music's charm. While I'm not sure the woodwinds of all the Czech Republic's top orchestras play with a piquant charm, I'd love to hear any of their better orchestras tackle this work.
Still a good endeavor of an opera which badly needs a first-rate performance on DVD. While we're at it, how about good DVDs of "The Jakobin" (a comedy) and "Dmitrij" (Dvorak's continuation of the Boris Godunov story)."
Devilishly Delightful Dvorak
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 04/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you love Dvorak and Rusalka you owe it to yourself to try the Devil and Kate. Dvorak wrote it right before Rusalka. He was at the height of his powers and he is one of the great melodists. Kate is filled with beauty. It is a comedy, basically Taming of the Shrew reversed. Kate tames the devil who can''t take her. The plot is not your standard opera plot - it is truly original. For one thing there is no love story. If you like the Slavonic Dances know that there are many dances and orchestral pieces here that will have you dancing.
The singers are all very good at singing and acting. The production is imaginative without directorial distortion. And the production is in English so it is even easier to enter into the drama. There are subtitles but the singers English is so good you really don't need them. This is my first time seeing a Wexford opera. I do hope they will put many more on DVD.
Dvorak until recently was an unjustly neglected composer. When I was growing up he was known for the New World and the Slavonic Dances. I was amazed to discover he had written many operas. We were finally able to see Rusalka and now it is entering the standard repetoire. Hopefully Kate will join it soon. This performance should help convince other opera companies of its worth."