Smetana, Bedřich


Smetana, Bedřich

The Two Widows (in three volumes with German and Czech libretto)

SKU: 2014 Category:



Bedřich Smetana – Dvě vdovy (The Two Widows)

(b. Litomyšl, 2 March 1824 – d. Prague, 12 May 1884)

Comic opera in two acts (originally 1873-74), revised second verson of 1877


“Mr. Smetana has an enormous salary as composer, conductor, artistic director, and director of the opera school. As a composer his activities are negligible. … As a conductor he is known by name only in the theater handbook. … As director of the opera school he has an immense timetable: two lectures since the school began. … In short, Mr. Smetana must be considered a nothing – a zero – a blank!” (František Pivoda, Politik, 12 September 1874)

Thus the climate of conservative opinion that greeted Bedřich Smetana in 1874, expressed in a tone we are more likely to associate today with weblog cranks. History has proven Pivoda wrong, of course, but it was this climate that surrounded and gave rise to Smetana‘s fifth opera, The Two Widows (Dvě vdovy). Intent on creating a broad repertoire of national opera – that is, operas written to Czech librettos on Czech subjects in a distinctively Czech musical idiom – he had already produced a historical romance on a Sir Walter Scott-like medieval subject (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, 1866), a folk comedy in a rural setting (The Bartered Bride, 1866), and a lofty heroic tragedy (Dalibor, 1868) and had completed the score to his great pageant on the founding of the Czech nation, Libuše. But the virulent reception given to Dalibor in the press, where it was accused (among other things) of introducing Germanic Wagnerisms into the nascent language of Czech opera, caused him to hold back on mounting Libuše, which he knew would invite attacks at the same level of ferocity (eventually it was produced in 1881 to inaugurate the newly built Prague National Opera). Instead, Smetana turned his mind to a lighter subject and wrote what he termed a “conversational” opera, one in which the Czech language would be put to use on more homely themes than the historical or legendary subjects of its four predecessors. To quote the composer’s own words, “I purposely gave the music a certain style so that the elegance of the drawing-room should be joined with tenderness and nobility. It was an attempt … to write an opera for once in an elevated drawing-room style” (letter of 21 February 1882 to Ludevít Procháska).

As the basis of his new opera Smetana turned to a recent French play that had achieved rousing success in Paris in 1860: Les deux veuves by Félicien Mallefille (1813-1868). This witty and satirical situation comedy had already been performed in Prague in a lightly bowdlerized German version as Die zwei Witwen in 1862, and in 1868 it was presented there in a Czech translation prepared from the German by Emanuel Züngel (1840-1894). It was only natural, then, that Smetana should turn to this same Czech adapter to write his opera libretto. Züngel divided the original one-act play into two acts, wrote new words for the choral numbers, created rhymed texts for the arias, added the “arrest scene” (Act I, scene 5), and created a comic song for the character of Mumlal. Smetana was delighted with the result and set to work on the score with unusual rapidity, beginning on 14 July 1873 and putting the final touches on the orchestral score on 15 January 1874. (His quick pace was aided by the fact that he often turned to earlier compositions, some of them already ten years old). Two months later, on 27 March 1874, this first version of The Two Widows, featuring only four characters, was premièred in Prague’s Provisional Theater with Smetana himself at the conductor’s desk. Though successful by normal theatrical standards, it did nothing to soften the anti-Smetana rancor in the conservative press, which found its polka-based musical language incomprehensible and saw in it a further influx of those dread Germanicisms. Despite its high qualities (Hans von Bülow pronounced it incomparable in nineteenth-century opera) the piece was soon dropped from the repertoire. …

Read preface / Vorwort > HERE

Score Data


Opera Explorer






160 x 240 mm



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