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Dicapo Opera Theatre; Sat 21--Mar 4

When Julius Zeyer adapted the epic tale of the female warrior Srka into an opera libretto in the late 19th century, he intended it for his renowned countryman Dvorak. Instead, the libretto fell into the hands of an ambitious 22-year-old, Leos Janacek, eager to write his first opera. Zeyer refused to grant such a novice the rights to produce the work, so the composer waited almost 50 years for the writer’s death, by which time Janacek’s success warranted a premiere; Srka opened in 1925, during Janacek’s 70th birthday celebration.

Even after finding its way to the stage, Srka remained obscure, revived only periodically during Czech festivals; Janacek expert Charles Mackerras finally helmed a recording in 2001. Composer Tobias Picker, Dicapo’s artistic adviser, discovered Srka through his publisher, which also holds rights to the Janacek canon, and he helped to arrange its belated U.S. premiere. Oliver Gooch, a former Mackerras assistant who led the premiere of Conrad Susa’s The Dangerous Liaisons at Dicapo, was enlisted to conduct.

“It’s very much a work of a composer trying to find his voice,” Gooch explains. The story of a female warrior who leads an army of women against male aggressors evokes Wagner, while the music recalls that of operas by Dvorak and Smetana. “But in Act II there are traces also of Jenufa,” Gooch says, referring to Janacek’s 1904 breakthrough work. Here, Walter Sutcliffe, who has directed productions at the Metropolitan Opera, will handle the staging. Kristin Sampson sings the title role, with Erik Nelson Werner as her star-crossed lover, Ctirad. —Amanda Angel

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