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Robert Kurka

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Good Soldier Schweik (1958)
Weintraub Music
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1 Hours 43 Minutes
men's chorus; SATB chorus or S, C, 3T, 2Bar, B
Solo Instrument(s)
2 Sopranos, Countertenor, 8 Tenors, 6 Baritone, 3 Basses, 4 actors, 1 actress, dancer, pantomimist
Programme Note
Robert Kurka The Good Soldier Schweik (1958)
The Good Soldier Schweik
An Opera in Two Acts
Libretto by Lewis Allan
Music by Robert Kurka
The opera is based on The Good Soldier, Schweik by Jaroslav Hasek
"Osudy Dobrého Vojáka Švejka Za Světové Války"


Act I
Joseph Schweik hears about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo from his cleaning woman, Mrs. Muller and receives the news with characteristic good-natured calm. He goes, as usual, to "The Flagon," a tavern occupied at the moment by Palivec, the landlord, and Bretschneider, a plainclothes policeman on secret service who is hoping to pick up some anti-Austrian expressions of opinion on the heels of the assassination. He draws the conversation into political channels and arrest Schweik and Bretschneider for some harmless remarks.

Schweik is taken to police headquarters where he is interrogated and thrown into a cell among other innocent victims of the war hysteria, including Palivec. Schweik, always the optimist, points out how much better off they are than in the days of mediaeval torture. As he is expounding his ideas, he is dragged out to be examined by a commission of medical authorities consisting of three psychiatrists of divergent schools of thought. His bland good nature convinces them that he is an idiot and they commit Schweik to a mental institution.

In contrast to the world outside, Schweik enjoys the advantages of a public institution. He is examined again by two other doctors who become convinced that he is feigning the role of a happy simpleton and is in reality a malingerer seeking to escape military service. They have him thrown out of the asylum despite his resentful and vigorous protests.

Back home again, in bed with a chronic attack of rheumatism, Schweik informs Mrs. Muller that he has received his draft call and patriotism impels him to report for induction immediately. His excited behavior and feverish enthusiasm alarm Mrs. Muller but she obeys his wishes and tearfully pushes Schweik along the street in a wheelchair while he brandishes his crutches and shouts enthusiastically, "On to Belgrade!" followed by an appreciatively gleeful crowd.

Act II
Schweik and a group of other suspected malingerers including Palivec are confined to a hut used as an infirmary where an army doctor tries to convince them by various unorthodox methods that serving the Emperor is preferable to malingering. As he is engaged in this practical group therapy, the sergeant ushers in Baroness Von Botzenheim, followed by her retinue bearing hampers of food and gifts. She has come to see Joseph Schweik whose patriotic gesture in reporting for the draft in a wheel chair and with crutches has captured the columns of the newspapers. Schweik and his companions devour the food with ravenous appetites. When the Baroness and her retinue have gone, the furious doctor has them all thrown into the guardhouse.

There, they attend a sermon conducted by the Army Chaplain who storms at them for their enslavement to carnal appetites at the expense of the spirit. Schweik breaks into tears and sobs audibly. The Chaplain appoints him as his orderly. Shortly after, the Chaplain loses Schweik to Lieutenant Henry Lukash during a spirited game of poker.

In his first day of service, the good-natured Schweik amiably complicates Lieutenant Lukash’s life. He lets the canary out of its cage to become friends with the cat whereupon the cat gobbles up the bird. Annoyed at the cat’s unfriendly disposition, he chases him out of the house. In order to replace the cat, he steals a monstrous dog. At the same time, Mrs. Katy Wendler, one of the Lieutenant’s paramours arrives bag and baggage. Schweik puts her up in the Lieutenant’s bedroom and to facilitate her early departure notifies her husband. When Lieutenant Lukash arrives home, he is caught in the center of a vortex involving the dog, Katy Wendler, Colonel Kraus Von Zillergut, owner of the stolen dog, Katy’s husband, Mr. Wendler and of course, Schweik. As a result, the furious Colonel orders Lieutenant Lukash and Schweik sent off immediately to the front.

On the Prague-Budejovice express enroute to their destination, Schweik gets the Lieutenant into further difficulties with a bald-headed General Von Schwarzburg whom he mistakes for a bald-headed Mr. Purkabek. The Lieutenant gives Schweik a wrathful dressing down for the mistaken identity at the conclusion of which Schweik accidentally pulls the emergency brake, bringing the train to a sudden stop. Schweik is arrested and taken off the train to the great relief of Lieutenant Lukash who now sees a tranquil future ahead of him even though at the front.

During the final stopover in Budejovice before moving into the front lines, the Lieutenant tries to establish a romance between himself and a Madame Kakonyi. While he is writing a letter to the lady to arrange for a meeting, Schweik unexpectedly arrives to report for duty again. Overwhelmed by the fate which pursues him in the person of Schweik, Lieutenant Lukash accepts the inevitable and sends his orderly to deliver the letter to Madame Kakonyi personally.

On the way Schweik meets Voditchka, an old pal, and they celebrate at a tavern. Schweik finally remembers his unfulfilled mission and the pals leave, somewhat unsteadily, to complete it. In attempting to deliver the letter to the lady, they become embroiled in an argument with her husband, Mr. Kakonyi, out of which develops a street brawl involving the local police, Czech soldiers and German military police. To protect Lieutenant Lukash, Schweik swallows the letter.

Lieutenant Lukash and Schweik finally reach the front, a scene of vast devastation. The Lieutenant sends Schweik and a sergeant on advance patrol. They set out together but later differ as to the correct direction to continue. Even though the sergeant’s memory and the map seem to prove him right, Schweik insists that maps may be wrong. Schweik and the sergeant part company, the sergeant following the map and Schweik following his inclination. He takes another road and disappears.

View Full Score - Act II

First performed in 1958, Robert Kurka's THE GOOD SOLDIER SCHWEIK, which the American Kurka based on stories by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek, is a black comedy about a half-witted soldier who blunders his way through the "Great War." The jazzy musical idiom recalls Weill and Blitzstein. Director Rhoda Levine had a lively take on the opera's central premise that war is insane and the only way to cope with it is to be an idiot. Military helmets were buckets with plungers stuck on top; John Conklin's sets were black boxes and staircases that [were] sorted and stacked in various configurations; Conklin costumed nearly everyone in gray fatigues, and Robert Wierzel's gloomy lighting completed the Stygian effect. [The opera] is effective and entertaining, and conductor Stewart Robertson captured the style with flair.
Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal,1/1/0001
Glimmerglass Opera has proved adept at championing unduly neglected American works; they've done it again. Rhoda Levine has mounted Robert Kurka's THE GOOD SOLDIER SCHWEIK with a wit and energy that never obscured the piece's underlying humanism or satiric point. Kurka [tragically died] at 35, months before the work's 1958 City Opera world premiere. [The work has] been [mounted] fairly regularly in Central Europe, where Jaroslav Hasek's novel - and the circumstances of Austro-Hungarian Imperial history during and after World War I that spawned it - are better known. The work's implicitly anti-McCarthyist and explicitly antiwar politics have found greater favor abroad. Schweik is at once very much of its time and uncannily timely...It felt alarmingly novel to encounter a pacifist narrative in public performance. From the first riff of the snare drum, the orchestra (entirely brass, woodwinds and percussion) sounded terrific under Stewart Robertson, with admirable rhythmic snap (Kurka knew his Prokofiev and Stravinsky). Levine incorporated most of the score's stage directions and still gave imaginative spin to the big set pieces and - more crucially - the transitions. The hapless, eternally cheerful Schweik was brilliantly sung and winningly acted by Anthony Dean Griffey, a great performance which (like the whole show) needs to be seen in New York.
David Shengold,,1/1/0001
Shortly before his death at age 38, Robert Kurka completed an opera based on Hasek's classic WWI comic novel THE GOOD SOLDIER SCHWEIK. He co-wrote the libretto with Lewis Allen, [and] limited his instrumental forces to a 16-piece ensemble. As a result, the score's punchy, sardonic sound world perfectly suits the story. [Written in] the Weill/Brecht modernist model with its declamatory vocal lines...Kurka's melodic writing is influenced by American musical theater [with] the dual influences of jazz and Czech folk music. The recording [is] from the Chicago Opera Theater's April 2000 production, and it's a knockout in every way.
Jed Distler,,1/1/0001
(Long Beach Opera production January 2010) In a story that encapsulates that fragile and chaotic moment when WWI is erupting, paradoxes abound. ...In a narrative and social context so riddled with questions and grey zones, the alternately sweet and sour musical language Kurka uses - starting with a ripe, wry and Weill-esque overture - reflects the story and characters at hand. ...Even as we appreciate the various period piece elements of a WWI-era tale turned into music theater during the Cold War, today's headlines exert their chilling resonance with the material. The opera sings and speaks to us, yesterday and tomorrow.
Josef Woodard, Opera Now,1/1/0001
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