LIVE from Rome - the composition 'From the house of the dead' by Leos Janacek
Somber, radical, masculine, short - these are some of the words that could be used to describe the last work of the Czech composer Leoš Janáček, "From the house of the dead" ("Z mrtvého domu" in Czech, in the original) and at the same time some one of the most important reasons why the opera is so rarely present on the posters of the world's great opera houses. Add here the unconventional use of instruments, one of the factors that create an unusual musical language, and you have the recipe for a refusal from institutions that obviously need to sell tickets. Fortunately, however, there are also theaters outside the author's native country that are willing to take this leap of faith and program this rarely sung lyrical score.
Now, on May 23rd, 2023, the Opera House in Rome (Teatro Costanzi) is bringing "From the House of the Dead" to the public for the first time in the Italian capital. The production, staged by the famous Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski, is conducted by Dmitri Matvienko and is the result of a partnership with London's Royal Covent Garden Opera House.
The cast consists almost exclusively of male voices, performed by American, Canadian, English and Czech artists, and the only female presence, in the role of the Prostitute, is the Canadian mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule. Featuring baritone Mark S. Doss, tenors Pascal Charbonneau, Stefan Margita, Erin Caves, baritones Lukas Zeman, Clive Bayley, Ales Jenis, and Leigh Melrose, as well as tenors Julian Hubbard, Paul Curievici, and Michael J. Scott. The Rome Opera Choir is prepared by the conductor Ciro Visco.
The source of Janáček's inspiration for the work "From the House of the Dead" is the 1862 novel "Memories from the House of the Dead" by Feodor Dostoevsky. The composer himself wrote the composition's libretto, working on the score until the last moment of his life, in August 1928. Before he died, the artist left a complete score, ready to be staged. However, two of Janáček's students found it necessary to make changes both in the orchestration and in the course of the action, and especially in the denouement, which they saw fit to sweeten, thus placing themselves entirely in contradiction with the intentions of Dostoevsky and Janáček. Fortunately, most productions traditionally return to the composer's original score. "From the house of the dead" was sung in the original version, in the Czech language, for the absolute premiere on April 12, 1930 at the National Theater in Brno.
The action of the masterpiece "From the house of the dead" takes us to a Siberian penitentiary colony, where the political prisoner Alexandr Petrovitch Goryantchikov is newly arrived. As he finds his place among the other prisoners, they share their strange, sad and violent stories, form friendships and spark conflicts. Each scene is brought to life by Janáček's inventive and moving score, which also uses the sound effect of real chains, notated in the score, to introduce the audience to the atmosphere of the Siberian prison. The composer's fidelity to Dostoevsky's source text makes From the House of the Dead an extremely valuable encounter with two creative giants.
We listen to the opera live from Rome on Tuesday, May 23rd, 2023, from 21.00, at the European Stage.
Translated by Cosmin-Ionuț Petriea,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year I
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu