Bedřich Smetana: Lark Song

Source: Supraphon

The Lark Song comes from the opera The Kiss, which was the first work that Bedřich Smetana wrote after going deaf. Nonetheless, he was able to finish it very quickly, working on it for a mere six months from February to July 1876. 

Sussana Rigacci,  photo: Nln54,  CC BY-SA 3.0

A bird song is hard to emulate with the inferior human voice organ. Beloved songbirds, such as the lark, sing fast and can hit unbelievably high notes. The only humans that can even approach that style are coloratura soprano singers.

Coloratura means colourful in Italian, and soprano di coloratura is a type of soprano voice distinct for its lightness and agility, especially at the highest octaves. A famous soprano of this type is Sussana Rigacci, who has sung at some of the most prestigious stages, including La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice. An unforgettable Czech coloratura soprano was the longtime queen of the National Theatre Jana Jonášová.

The Kiss met with success

Eliška Krásnohorská,  photo: CC0

Unlike Smetana’s other operas, the premiere of The Kiss was a great success. And despite its relatively simple plotline and libretto, it has remained popular to this day, mainly thanks to the famous lullabies of the main character Vendulka and Barče’s Lark Song. The Kiss is Smetana’s first opera with a libretto by Eliška Krásnohorská, who was at the time a young but already well-known writer. Smetana picked her after seeing the success of her work in Karl Bendl’s opera Lejla. Krasnohorská’s writing has, unfortunately, not aged well, and her librettos seem anachronic today. Luckily, Smetana edited the librettos of all his operas. That way, he was able to make the plots of The Kiss and The Bartered Bride more dramatic.

The Kiss,  source: Olga Mojžíšová: Bedřich Smetana. Doba,  život,  dílo. Praha,  Národní muzeum 1998,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC0

The opera takes place in the Podještědí region, in the village of Světlá pod Ještědem or in Kryštofovo údolí (Christopher’s Valley), to be precise. That is a region full of romantic beauty. A naïve short story by Karolína Světlá of the same name served as inspiration for The Kiss. The character of Barče plays an episodic role in the short story. She is a helping-hand at the Paloucký farm, where the main character Vendulka lives.

Barče witnesses Vendulka’s rejection of Lukáš, a young widower and her former lover. Vendulka refuses to kiss Lukáš so as not to disgrace the memory of his late wife and promises to first kiss him only after they get married. But Lukáš proceeds to get roaring drunk and embarrasses Vendulka by mocking her in a song and then kissing one of the village girls. After coming to his senses, Lukáš becomes very regretful and honestly wants to apologise to Vendulka. Barče sees this and runs to tell Vendulka, who has gone to the forest with her old aunt. A lark sings in the background. Barče runs to a clearing and looks for Vendulka, but the only answer to her calls is an echo. After that, the lark starts singing again and brings us this song, which is beautiful but has no significance for the plot of the opera.

The Best of Czech classical music series was created on the basis of Lukáš Hurník's and Bohuslav Vítek's project "Millenium hits" which was broadcast on Czech Radio Vltava.

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