The Stubborn Lovers (Tvrdé palice), Op. 17, B46
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
September 1874 – 24 December 1874
Premiere - date and place
2 October 1881, Prague
Leopold Stropnický (Vávra), Antonín Vávra (Toník), Betty Fibichová (Říhová), Helena Frommová (Lenka), Karel Čech (Řeřicha), conductor Mořic Anger, director František Hynek
not yet published
Author of the libretto
1 piccolo, 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
Vávra, farmer – baritone
Toník, his son – tenor
Říhová, widow – contralto
Lenka, her daughter – soprano
Godfather Řeřicha – bass
approx. 75 min.
composition history and general characteristics
Dvořák’s fascination with opera continued to increase in the first half of the 1870s. Without even waiting to see how the premiere of King and Collier had fared – its first version having been criticised to the extreme – he immediately set to work on a new opera, this time a one-act comic opera set to a libretto by Josef Štolba, The Stubborn Lovers. Despite the short interval separating these two works, the latter testifies to a greater originality of expression and command of form. The quality of the text chosen for the setting had much to do with this shift. While this libretto could likewise hardly be described as particularly literary or dramatic, it had, for its time, a witty plot (now rather naive from a modern perspective) with a clear punch line and well drawn characters. Librettist Josef Štolba, a notary by profession who also turned out plays and travel books, wrote the text specially for Dvořák. The opera score appeared within a relatively short space of time, between September and 24 December 1874, with the overture following soon afterwards.
The story, in spirit, clearly indulged the universal popularity of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. It is set in a rural environment and tells the tale of a stubborn pair of lovers, Toník and Lenka, who are finally coaxed into marriage after being duped by their scheming godfather Řeřicha. Dvořák’s music is sprightly, full of melodic and rhythmical ideas, and the overall conception of the opera is rooted in French and Italian comic opera, and also finds inspiration in Smetana’s stage works. The plot is divided into sixteen semi-independent scenes, of which four are written purely for soloists, three are choruses, and the other scenes are dialogues involving two or three characters; the orchestral overture traditionally comprises a slow introduction and a main fast movement. Seen in the context of Dvořák’s entire dramatic oeuvre, The Stubborn Lovers is one of the few exceptions where neither the composer nor anyone else interfered with the original version of the score.
first attempts to stage the work
As soon as Dvořák finished his opera, he submitted it for production. This was January 1875, but it was almost seven years before the composer saw his work performed on stage. It is not entirely clear why the opera was delayed for so long; according to the composer’s biographer, Otakar Šourek, apparently “at that time, one-act operas were not popular among theatre administration’s decision-makers.” Whatever the reason, the time that elapsed between Dvořák’s submission of the opera for rehearsal and its premiere was the longest period in the history of the composer’s stage works (if we don’t count Alfred and the first version of King and Collier, which weren’t performed at all during Dvořák’s lifetime). It’s no surprise, then, that he responded to a request which came from Vienna at the beginning of 1881: the director of the Hofoper, Franz Jauner, expressed an interest in producing one of Dvořák’s stage works. Negotiations on staging The Stubborn Lovers at the Vienna theatre gradually began to take shape and a contract was even drawn up in the summer; for reasons unknown, however, the opera was never performed.
The first performance of The Stubborn Lovers finally took place on 2 October 1881 at the New Czech Theatre in Prague, the Provisional Theatre’s summer venue, thus, paradoxically, after the staging of Dvořák’s later operas Vanda and The Cunning Peasant. Critics at the time wrote that the premiere was “superb in every respect: the overture alone enchanted the audience, which expressed its sincere appreciation and continued to do so after almost every major scene. The composer was called up to take a bow before his delighted audience several times.” The very next day, Dvořák described the events in a letter to librettist Josef Štolba:
“Allow me for the time being to give you a brief report of the huge success of yesterday’s premiere of The Stubborn Lovers. The audience was decidedly animated and several scenes were greeted with a round of applause, particularly the one where the chorus appears for the first time, they were so enthusiastic about that. If you can, or if you will, please write me a two- or three-act comic opera soon, perhaps a historical situation set elsewhere, and you will see that our collaboration will find its due acknowledgement in musical circles.”
However, there was no more collaboration between Dvořák and Josef Štolba; the latter’s fees were not satisfactory and the librettist lost interest. Nevertheless, the success of the premiere encouraged Dvořák to write another work for the stage, so much so that he immediately requested a libretto for a comic opera from Marie Červinková-Riegrová. Their alliance later gave rise to the operas Dimitrij and The Jacobin.
reception and performance history
The Stubborn Lovers joins the second setting of King and Collier and The Cunning Peasant as three operas which, at the time of writing, were welcomed as a testimony of Dvořák’s move away from his former Neo-Romantic (in other words, “German” or “foreign”) tendencies towards a “folksy” style. These were undertakings which followed the canonical example of The Bartered Bride, which was considered by many – a quite dogmatic opinion from today’s perspective – as the only possible path a Czech opera composer could take. Yet one could not describe The Stubborn Lovers, or the other two aforementioned works, as operas created “in the Smetana mould”. Dvořák’s original musical idiom is clearly in evidence here; the chief similarities primarily concern the rural theme and a clear-cut musical setting unhindered by “scholarship”. If a contemporary theatre were considering a production of Dvořák’s fourth stage opus, however, these qualities, appreciated during their time, would, in fact, be more of an obstacle today. Modern (opera or drama) theatre – with its predilection for Freudian or Kafkaesque interpretations, and with its tendency to psychologise or perceive issues from gender positions – is hardly a suitable environment for naive stories about simple folk.
The Stubborn Lovers is part of a group of Dvořák’s operas which never made it to foreign stage venues. The opera was variously staged at Prague’s National Theatre, with longer or shorter breaks up until the year 1946; after this it never appeared on the repertoire of this principal Czech theatre again. Theatres outside Prague have performed the opera sporadically: Ostrava (1945), Opava (1946), Jihlava (1951), České Budějovice (1951), Janáček Academy of Music, Brno (1969, 1994), and Liberec (1974). A production of the opera was made for television in 1990.
the story is set in a Czech village during the 1770s
Widower Vávra and widow Říhová come to an agreement that their children, Toník and Lenka, will marry one another. They think that things will go smoothly, but old godfather Řeřicha warns them that the young pair are stubborn and won’t put up with anyone interfering with the way they live their lives. So he thinks up a cunning plan: He tells Toník that his father wants to marry Lenka, and then Lenka receives similar news about her mother; she apparently wants to marry Toník. At this point, the young couple start to wonder whether they have made a mistake by rejecting one another out of pure stubbornness. So they decide to get married.