In the Shadow of Smetana's Libuše: Fibich's Blaník and the National Theatre
The character of the output of Czech composers between the 1860s and 90s was determined to a considerable degree by competitions for new operas. The first such competition, announced by Count Harrach, was won by Smetana’s The Brandenburgers in Bohemia; another contest was linked with the planned opening of the National Theatre; the third one already aimed at augmenting the National Theatre’s repertoire (it was won by Zdeněk Fibich with The Bride of Messina, 1884); and the last in this series of competitions fell within the context of the Bohemo-Slavic Ethnographic Exhibition (1895). The present study concentrates on the second of these opera competitions, which was entered by three serious operas: namely, Smetana’s Libuše, Bendl’s Montenegrins, and Fibich’s Blaník. Though the main prize went predictably to Libuše, Bendl and Fibich ended up with both financial rewards and recommendations for their operas to be staged, which led to their subsequent acclaimed productions.
Fibich’s Blaník is described here as a distinctive example of aspirations to follow up the endeavour initiated by Bedřich Smetana. There, the comparison of Libuše and Blaník makes possible to reveal the original approaches present in Smetana’s opera, while at the same time confronting the actual work with expectations harboured by the general public. Where, at the stage of sketching Libuše, Smetana had already arrived at a clearly defined form of musical dra- ma, Fibich accepted the conditions set by his librettist, Eliška Krásnohorská and proceeded to adjust his grand opera concept to Wagnerian principles. The subsequent history of Fibich’s opera have even inspired a hypothesis about the sustained approximation of the composer’s initial concept to the model format of Smetana’s Libuše. Accordingly, detailed analysis is supplemented here by insights into the opera’s reception, and work with manuscript sources. The existing knowledge of a broader context is complemented here by additional information about the previously insufficiently explained attitude of Antonín Dvořák who – as seems to be corroborated by newly accessible sources – worked on his Dimitrij in the close vicinity of Libuše and Blaník, and yet decided to compete with these operas straight away in the National Theatre’s repertoire, without any prior confrontation.
Key words: Bedřich Smetana; Libuše; Zdeněk Fibich; Blaník; Bendl; Montenegrins; National Theatre
Translated by Ivan Vomáčka