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Sarka (opera), B436

Encouraged by the success of the premiere of the opera The Cunning Peasant, Dvorak decided to start writing another opera. In 1878, through the mediation of his friend, the poet Josef Vaclav Sladek, he contacted the poet Julius Zeyer with a request for a libretto. Zeyer’s Sarka, which treats a theme from Czech mythology, was nevertheless not what Dvorak was looking for (nor, in fact, did it suit Bedrich Smetana later on), and so he rejected the libretto. As was the case with the genesis of the operas Dimitrij and The Jacobin, Dvorak’s rejection was not definite on this occasion, either. In 1889 – eleven years later – Sladek wrote to Zeyer:

I met Dvorak yesterday and we spoke for a long time. It seems he is asking that you allow him to write a musical setting for ‘Sarka’, and that you do not award it to anyone else. He spoke with sincerity. He said that, when you gave it to him all those years ago, he had not yet grown up! Now he feels he has the strength in him – he now has the courage to attempt something as great as this, and he also understands it. He is captivated by it and he says that, once he starts work, it will soon be ready, because the text is dictating the music to him itself. He has already described to me the individual scenes and he speaks in a way I have never heard him speak. He asked me to write to you immediately, which is what I have done.”

We do not know how Zeyer responded, but the fact remains that Dvorak did not write a setting for the libretto even then. Dvorak again began thinking about writing the opera “Sarka” a third time after his return from the United States, during a period when he frequently met up with Zeyer at musical soirees in the home of Josef and Zdenka Hlavka. He even noted down a theme in B major marked “Ctirad” (the name of the main male character) in his sketchbook at the time, but he didn’t get any further with it and finally abandoned the opera for good. Zeyer’s libretto had, in the meantime, been adopted by Leos Janacek, who used it for his very first opera setting; the opera, however, was not premiered until 1925.