Zdenek Fibich: Dargun from Pad Arkuna/The Fall of Arkuna Part 2

Technically this and Helga are actually two different operas in the same way that The Maid of Pskov is a different opera from its prologue The Noblewoman Vera Sheloga so I am treating them as two entries, at least for now.

DARGUN: (121 minutes)

ACT 1: The sea coast near Arkuna. (53 minutes)

0: The act starts with the Overture *** which is fierce and furious war-like music, very long (12 minutes), and rather Wagnerian. Ten minutes in an organ comes in. The remainder of the act is actually a rather manageable forty minutes.

14: On blíží se, můj život i má smrt The act proper opens with a dialogue between Radana and the pagan priest Dolen. Eventually it is revealed that she has a dark tajemstvi, and we all know what that means! She embarks on a subtlety evil aria ** which is broken up by a patch of Wagnerian orchestral music.

19: Proč srdce toužně bije’ A chorus of shipwrecked men come on with Absalon, who carries an apparently lifeless Margit in his arms. He prays to the Christian G-d and revives the girl **. Jaromer sees this.

23: Margit leads an ensemble of thanksgiving over this apparent miracle **. Jaromer tries to offer hospitality to the Christians but Absalon refuses (there is a holy theme here).

28: An energetic aria for Jaromer as he thinks about Margit ***.

33: He is quickly interrupted by the return of Radana who confesses her desire for him. Their duet really heats up as he rejects her and she swears vengeance **.

36: The people arrive in anticipation of the ritual **

40, 42: The grand march as Dargun arrives ** and he begins the ritual **. He decides to expel Jaromer because he refuses to fight the Danes anymore.

48: The act finale ***, in which Jaromer makes it known that if he takes power he will convert the island to Christianity and Dargun contemplates what to do with him as the ritual continues.

ACT 2: A cave near a grove of beech trees on the coast. (42 minutes)

3: Již tichne les a zvolna usíná Gentle preluding involving clarinet, oboe and flute work with strings and harp opens the act. Margit is awake but Absalon is not. She reflects **. Eventually they are met by Jaromer.

6: Jak v moře hvězdy kanou The love duet *** (Margit-Jaromer) has one winding tune which is frequently repeated in the vocal line for Jaromer.

10: Absalon wakes up, embarks on a monologue of sorts ** (it is very brief but the tune is good) and convinces Jaromer of the validity of Christianity and the young man leaves with Margit.

12: Christianity and Paganism cross swords ** as Dargun arrives and confronts Absalon. Eventually he attempts to break a Crucifix in half but is stopped when Margit returns and frightens him away with her resemblance to Helga. Margit questions Absalon as to what caused the pagan high priest to flee, but he lies to her claiming he doesn’t know.

21: The mariticide of Rutan by Radana ***, in some ways the dramatic climax of the opera although not its musical climax. He confronts her with an accusation of adultery, which she does not deny. Eventually she pretends to want to seduce him back and uses the trick to stab him to death (this is extremely subtle) and leaves his body in the cave.

30: Margit returns to the cave and Radana frames her for the murder of Rutan  ** (what could the motive be though?). The girl is taken by a fierce chorus of Rujan forces for trial and condemnation, leaving Radana alone to contemplate seducing Jaromer, who returns to the cave with Absalon.

37: She reveals the truth ** and Jaromer is horrified when she reveal that she did it in order to free herself for him. She realizes that she will never win him, he wants Margit and will free her if he can. She runs off.

40: The act ends with a brief but grand chorus ** of the arriving Danish forces seeking fresh converts for Christendom. Jaromer informs all as to what has happened to Margit and they go off to rescue her.

ACT 3: The temple of Svantovit.  (26 minutes)

0: The holy prelude **, truly a civilization is about to fall with all the brassy angst coming from the orchestra.

2: Co nejistota nebo váhání Dargun reflects on his doomed relationship with Helga **.

8: Radana arrives and confesses to Dargun that she killed Rutan and Margit is innocent. He tells her that she must choose the method by which she will be executed and decides to throw herself onto the burning funeral pier of her husband. There isn’t exactly a musical highlight here until a brief Magic Fire quote from the orchestra *.

14, 21: Žel, ach, drahý otec můj Dargun orders that Margit be freed and brought to him. He questions her and eventually realizes that she is his daughter by Helga. Father and daughter are united for the first time in a lovely duet ***. Suddenly, they realize that the temple is on fire and the Danish are coming! She begs him to flee with him, but he refuses ** and dies as the temple collapses.

23: The finale *** as Jaromer rushes into the temple and saves the fainted Margit. The Danish order is established on the island amid a Te Deum and grand orchestral accompaniment (organ, harp, bells, brass, timpani).

COMMENTS:

One of the hardest things for me with this opera was how long it takes for the vocal diversity to come out. The first hour of the score consists of two dramatic sopranos reacting to baritones and basses. There are two tenors, the two brothers Jaromer and Rutan, but although one of them is a primary character, the other only appears long enough to establish who he is and get murdered. The opera is imbalanced with its first intermission not coming until over half-way through the opera, and the last two acts are rather short. Yet the score is through-composed in a pseudo-Wagnerian style, obvious leitmotifs, (especially a high repetitive war/death theme which impregnates the overture and the three acts leaving an extremely dark impression) and rather lush with a rich orchestration with a host of subtle melodies which succeed in creating an enjoyable, if heavily dramatic, overall experience. The plot is a bit thin for a nearly three hour long opera, and it is obvious that there are only two stories with the Rutan-Radana-Jaromer triangle coming off more as melodramatic filler to counterbalance the main narrative, which is far more interesting. Overall, I will call it as an A- or even A.

7 thoughts on “Zdenek Fibich: Dargun from Pad Arkuna/The Fall of Arkuna Part 2

  1. Thank you! I appreciate the research and detailed analysis you always bring to each entry, especially for czech repertory which I have a profound association with.

    I dunno what to say about Pad Arkuna, I’ve only listened to it twice. I get a better feeling for a work after 4 or 5 listens, so my opinion might change. I must admit my mind wandered more than a few times while listening to it. I wasn’t always fully engaged with it I must say, he seemed to ramble a bit too which wasn’t like him at all, his operas are normally quite compact. At least it wasn’t as gloomy as Bride of Messina, Pad had distinct and subtle melodies like you say that’s for sure. Maybe a few more listens will reveal the works secrets.

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    1. I noticed that as well with Fibich in general, since I also started reviewing Bride of Messina. It is really easy to just have your mind wander off while listening to him. I actually heard the prologue twice while reviewing it, and then the three acts twice apart from the overture (which I have heard already around three times).

      I think the sprawling nature of his music is due to attempted Wagnerianism.

      I also appreciate your positive comment because someone released one of my earliest reviews onto Facebook (Sigurd by Reyer) yesterday and the comments have been mostly negative. This is why I am not on Facebook personally.

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      1. God Lord! Why are the comments negative? You’ve done more than anyone to (re)introduce people to unknown works. I’ve lived long enough to become sick of the standard repertory, that’s why I seek out new things to listen to. Your blogs made my life easier – no more hunting around the web!

        I don’t like social media myself – too draining AND negative.

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      2. Eh, it is Facebook, like you said, draining and negative. I did not really take the negativity seriously, but OperaScribe filled me in on where it was coming from. Apart from my blog I actually have little to any social media presence (I presently don’t even have a smart phone). Maybe I might comment on YouTube at times, although then I stick to left-wing media because I am not interested in racists jerks. I have three email accounts (one in connection with my university), but nothing else.

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  2. And listen here, your reviews are more professional and well researched than some so called ”critics” that goes for OperaScribe as well. Ignore those stupid people on facebook!

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