Bedrich Smetana: Viola (Incomplete opera, 1874)

Fragment of an opera intended in three acts. Running Time: 14 minutes.

This was an attempted project for an operatic adaptation of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Smetana wrote a total of 365 bars (276 in full score), the vast majority of it consisting of the act 1 storm and rescue(s) scene with a portion of a scene in the court of Orsino. The video includes 10 minutes of the music, with the entire fragment available on a Supraphon release of the later Smetana opera Tajemstvi. The libretto is by Eliska Krasnohorska. The fragment was first performed in 1900 in concert form, then staged in 1924. It has since been attached to two later recordings of other late Smetana operas, in 1946 and 1982, released by Czech classical music company Supraphon.



Scene 1: The Coast of Dalmatia.

0: The storm, shipwreck, and the rescue of Viola and Sebastian (separately) ** have an early-Wagnerian tinge to them. Much of the scene consists of dialogues in which the twins are saved by a Capitan and a fisherman, the first scene is mostly taken up by Viola and the Capitan. Some of the music is rather chromatic, particularly the brass. The chorus pops back in as Sebastian and the Fisherman show up show up. The music is very much in the  normal Smetana style, sort of Wagnerian with Italian and French vocal features. Eventually the orchestration goes out and we are left with a piano accompaniment only.

Scene 2: The Court of Orsino, Duke of Dalmatia.

12: The second scene is very short, mostly consisting of a rather riveting (or would be with full orchestra) tenor aria for Orsino **. The entire sequence has only piano accompaniment.


There really isn’t much to say. The style is normative Smetana and it would have been interesting had it been completed. There are some chromatic features, but also some very traditional ones as well.

4 responses to “Bedrich Smetana: Viola (Incomplete opera, 1874)”

  1. Why did Smetana begin and then abandon it? Why Shakespeare, and this play? Had Romantic Bardolatry spread to Prague?


    1. Smetana had been fascinated with Shakespeare for a very long time. When he was court conductor in Stockholm (1850s) he wrote a symphonic poem for Richard III. The choice of Viola specifically was Krasnohorska, as it was an initial project (the earlier music dates to before composition of The Kiss) almost certainly because of the gender bending that occurs in the plot (Viola and her twin brother Sebastian end up confusing the Countess Olivia with their identicalness, among other things), Krasnohorska being a feminist. Smetana abandoned it because of his mental decline, at least that is the reason that is generally given, and when he died a decade later it had remained a fragment. The choice was not part of a sudden Shakespeare sweep in Prague, in fact it only indicates that had he lived, Smetana would probably have turned away from Czech scenarios to more International ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So you did have more to say!


      2. Well, if you ask, I will tell.


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