Comic opera is such a rare bird that one must be thankful when it is captured alive. Such was the case this weekend when the Sokol Opera gave the American premiere of Dvorak's "The Devil and Kate." Not all of the humor was intentional, and the singing was decidedly not of professional caliber. But Lida Brodenova's production was so enjoyable at the Sunday matinee that one must applaud the Sokol's labors.
As the curtain opens there is a dance at the village inn, where Kate kvetches that no one ever asks her to dance. She is pushy and bossy and, in fact, the villagers are afraid of her. In despair, Kate announces that she would dance with the Devil himself if he asked her. He does. What follows is a sweet fantasy, with Kate following the Devil to hell then dancing her way out by the end of Act II. The long third act has Kate saving the local Marschallin from the Devil as the whole town sings.
Dagmar White, the company's assoluta, was a witty choice for the lead. She has the ugliest voice in captivity: a soubrette in disrepair with a severe edge, a fearsome wobble, and a very daring sense of pitch. If it would have been nice to hear a real soprano in the beautiful final scene, at least this Kate was a convincing shrew, and very enjoyable.
The shepherd Jirka was sung by Tony Torchia with a Slavic tenor timbre and that forward vocal placement this repertory seems to encourage. Charles Kopfstein-Penk was a forgettable Devil. The modest sets and makeup had a nice storybook flavor, with lots of red stockings and redder cheeks. The Act II ballet was clearly influenced by the current aerobic dance craze. The chorus acted well, and the Opera House Orchestra under Stephen Prussing Orchestra was in fine form.