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king and collier, 2nd setting

final version: 151
COMPOSED original version: 17 April - 3 November 1874
final version: 1 February 1887 - March 1887
PREMIERE - DATE AND PLACE original version: 24 November 1874, Prague
final version: 15 June 1887, Prague
PREMIERE - PERFORMER(S) original version: Josef Lev - King Matyas, Karla Huttaryova - Queen, Jan Sara - Jindrich, Ema Sakova - Eva, Karel Cech - Matej, collier, Betty Hanusova - Anna, Marie Sittova - Liduska, Antonin Vavra - Jenik, Ferdinand Koubek - Sekacek, National Theatre Orchestra and Choir, conductor Adolf Cech, director: Edmund Chvalovsky
final version: Josef Lev - King Matyas, Vilem Hes - Matej, collier, Betty Fibichova-Hanusova - Anna, Hana Cavallarova - Lidka, Karel Vesely - Jenik, National Theatre Orchestra and Choir, conductor Adolf Cech
FIRST EDITION not published yet
LIBRETTO Bernard Guldener (pseudonym: B. J. Lobesky) + Vaclav Juda Novotny (final version)
INSTRUMENTATION 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets,
3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, violins, violas, cellos, double basses + mixed choir + soloists
1st act: A Woodland Glade
2nd act: A Wooded Landscape
3rd act: A Hall in Prague Castle
CHARACTERS King Matyas - baritone
Jindrich, burgrave - tenor
Matej, collier - bass
Anna, his wife - contralto
Liduska, their daughter - soprano
Jenik, young collier - tenor
huntsmen, courtiers, guards, colliers and their wives
DURATION approx. 115 min.


composition history

The first setting of the opera King and Collier, which Dvorak assigned to the Provisional Theatre, was already rejected at the rehearsal stage as unworkable. It isn’t entirely clear why Dvorak decided to set the same (weak) text to music again. At that time he probably already had the libretto for The Stubborn Lovers by Josef Stolba and would have been able to embark upon a completely new story. Evidently, the composer’s steadfast nature played its part – the desire to conquer a text which had previously defied him. Dvorak worked on the new version of the opera from April to November 1874, a period when he had terminated his engagement with the Provisional Theatre and was now working as an organist at the church of St Adalbert.

general characteristics

During the several-month period between the fiasco of the first version of the opera, and his decision to embark upon a new setting, a number of works appeared which point to a move away from Dvorak’s “Neo-Romantic” style of the late 1860s and early 1870s and demonstrate a tendency towards a more concise setting of the given text (Songs on Words by Eliska Krasnohorska, Four Songs on the Words of Serbian Folk Poems, Songs on the Words of the Dvur Kralove Manuscript). A similar trend is also apparent in the second musical setting for King and Collier. Although it is often described as the second “version”, what we have here is a completely new opera: Dvorak set the same text to music once again without using any of his original material. The opera is innovative not only in terms of content, but also in all the elements of its musical-dramatic style. Its composition is wholly independent of Wagnerian influence, and the leitmotif principle is restricted to a minimum. In contrast to the restless melodies and complex harmonies and polyphony which characterised the first score, the musical expression of the opera’s second version is simpler and now bears certain typical traits of Dvorak’s distinctive style. The subsequent development of Dvorak the dramatist betrays an endeavour to find a balance between accompanied recitative and the occasional use of short sections of secco recitative, which appear here for the first time and later became typical for Dvorak’s comic operas right up until The Jacobin, as did “legible” melodic vocal lines.

premiere and subsequent performances

During rehearsals it was already apparent that this new setting would bring Dvorak his first operatic success; a report in the press stated that “the rehearsals for Dvorak’s opera are going well, everyone is working hard and with great enthusiasm, since all the singers engaged in the project have come to like it very much.” The premiere, which was held on 24 November 1874 at the Provisional Theatre in Prague, was an outright success and brought Dvorak, now thirty-three, great satisfaction. Both the general public and the critics were full of praise. According to Dalibor magazine, “this opera by Dvorak, whose music to a large extent reflects a purely Czech physiognomy, was such a triumph that we can be sure of another Dvorak production”. The opera nevertheless only saw six repeat performances, for which the Provisional Theatre was criticised in the press. The next staging of the opera – this time conducted by Dvorak himself – occurred six years later, and this with one minor adjustment: the composer revised one of the scenes from Act One, the so-called ballad of King Matyas.

Although the opera as a complete work was received extremely favourably, it was clear that Act Three, in particular, suffered various dramaturgical flaws owing to the nature of the libretto. Dvorak thus decided to revise the work and also modify the text, a task he entrusted to Vaclav Juda Novotny, who had made similar successful revisions to the libretto for Smetana’s opera Dalibor shortly before. While Novotny’s interventions in the first two acts merely amounted to a few partial alterations, his reworking of Act Three was fairly radical, so Dvorak had to adapt certain passages, and even add new sections. This revised version was premiered at Prague’s National Theatre in June 1887 and was performed seven times. The last performance of this opera on 21 December 1887 was also the last held during Dvorak’s lifetime.

The opera was not staged again until the year 1914, ten years after Dvorak’s death; this time it featured new revisions carried out by the head of the National Theatre Opera, Karel Kovarovic. This versatile and talented musician, conductor, composer, stage director and also adapter of works by his colleagues – the circumstances surrounding his revision of Janacek’s Jenufa are particularly well-known – made relatively major changes to Dvorak’s work. This rendering of the opera was performed by Kovarovic sixteen times during the years 1914–1918. The only other staging at the National Theatre occurred during its 1956/1957 season (15 performances).


King Matyas is out hunting and loses his way in the dense forests of Central Bohemia, not far from Krivoklat castle; he finds refuge with the collier Matej. Incognito, he spends an evening being entertained by a group of villagers and the collier’s daughter Liduska, whom he asks for a dance. Her suitor, the young collier Jenik, is affronted by this.

In the morning Jenik catches his beloved in the woods as she receives a kiss from the unwelcome guest. He won’t listen to the explanation that the kiss was merely an expression of thanks, since Matyas has promised to help Liduska prepare for her marriage to the young collier. Hurt by his beloved’s apparent infidelity, Jenik plans to join the army. The king keeps up his disguise and, invited by the collier and his family, he travels to Prague to visit the fair.

Collier Matej and his wife arrive in Prague for the fair and, to their surprise, they are taken to the Castle. Here they encounter Jenik, who has meanwhile been promoted to commander of the king’s guard. King Matyas reveals his identity and betroths Liduska to Jenik.