King and Collier (Král a uhlíř) – 2nd setting, Op. 14, B42, B151

Opus number


Burghauser catalogue number

42, 151

Date of composition

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 Matyáš), Karla Huttaryová (The Queen), Jan Šára (Burgrave), Ema Sáková (Eva), Karel Čech (Matěj, collier), Betty Hanušová (Anna), Marie Sittová (Liduška), Antonín Vávra (Jeník), Ferdinand Koubek (Sekáček), National Theatre Orchestra and Choir, conductor Adolf Čech, director Edmund Chvalovský;
final version: Josef Lev (King Matyáš), Vilém Heš (Matěj, collier), Betty Fibichová-Hanušová (Anna), Hana Cavallárová (Lidka), Karel Veselý (Jeník), National Theatre Orchestra and Choir, conductor Adolf Čech

First edition

not yet published

Author of the libretto

Bernard Guldener (pseudonym: B. J. Lobeský) + Václav Juda Novotný (final version)


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

Parts / movements

1st act: A Woodland Glade
2nd act: A Wooded Landscape
3rd act: A Hall in Prague Castle


King Matyáš – baritone
Jindřich, burgrave – tenor
Matěj, collier – bass
Anna, his wife – contralto
Liduška, their daughter – soprano
Jeník, young collier – tenor
huntsmen, courtiers, guards, colliers and their wives


approx. 115 min.

composition history

The first setting of the opera King and Collier, which Dvořák assigned to the Provisional Theatre, was already rejected at the rehearsal stage as unworkable. It isn’t entirely clear why Dvořák 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 Štolba 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. Dvořák 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 Dvořák’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 Eliška Krásnohorská, Four Songs on the Words of Serbian Folk Poems, Songs on the Words of the Dvůr Králové 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: Dvořák 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 Dvořák’s distinctive style. The subsequent development of Dvořák 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 Dvořák’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 Dvořák his first operatic success; a report in the press stated that “the rehearsals for Dvořák’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 Dvořák, now thirty-three, great satisfaction. Both the general public and the critics were full of praise. According to Dalibor magazine, “this opera by Dvořák, whose music to a large extent reflects a purely Czech physiognomy, was such a triumph that we can be sure of another Dvořák 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 Dvořák 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 Matyáš.

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. Dvořák thus decided to revise the work and also modify the text, a task he entrusted to Václav Juda Novotný, who had made similar successful revisions to the libretto for Smetana’s opera Dalibor shortly before. While Novotný’s interventions in the first two acts merely amounted to a few partial alterations, his reworking of Act Three was fairly radical, so Dvořák 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 Dvořák’s lifetime.

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


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

In the morning Jeník 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 Matyáš has promised to help Liduška prepare for her marriage to the young collier. Hurt by his beloved’s apparent infidelity, Jeník 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 Matěj and his wife arrive in Prague for the fair and, to their surprise, they are taken to the Castle. Here they encounter Jeník, who has meanwhile been promoted to commander of the king’s guard. King Matyáš reveals his identity and betroths Liduška to Jeník.