After a long interval, the National Theatre repertoire will again be enriched by a work of the oldest of the titans of Czech opera, Bed?ich Smetana. Alongside The Bartered Bride and The Kiss, The Two Widows is an antipode to the efforts for majestic historical opera drama. Smetana’s opera buffa revels in optimism and playfulness, is replete with masterful musical characterisation, while at the same time representing a great challenge for the performers, since even in this “light-hearted” work the vocal parts can by no means be considered simple or trivial. If we disregard Smetana’s operatic fragment Viola, based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, then The Two Widows (1874) is his only opera not inspired by a Czech source.
Although Jean Pierre Mallefille’s French comedy is set by Smetana in a Czech milieu, this fact does not play a significant role as regards the work’s overall impact. It is a chamber, or small-town, comedy taking place at “the beginning of the modern era”, which may remind today’s audience of many a thing from the films shot during the First Czechoslovak Republic. Karolina and Anežka, cousins and widows, are staying together at a country manor. Karolina is merry, lighthearted and venturesome, whereas Anežka is convinced that as a widow she must be in mourning until the end of her days. This, however, will soon change!