13. December 2014

Aus einem Totenhaus

Press reviews on Chéreau's »From the house of the Dead« at New York Metropolitan Opera in 2009:

"Critics aren't supposed to use the word "perfect." It sounds excessive and insincere, because, after all, nothing in life or art is absolute. But when ...

Press reviews on Chéreau's »From the house of the Dead« at New York Metropolitan Opera in 2009:

"Critics aren't supposed to use the word "perfect." It sounds excessive and insincere, because, after all, nothing in life or art is absolute. But when confronted with a production of such overwhelming excellence as From the House of the Dead at the Met, the urge to use the P-word is just about irresistible."
(The New York Post, 16 November 2009)

"Leoš Janáček's From the House of the Dead, is a total triumph, perhaps one of the finest things that the Met has ever done… From the crackling first bars of the prelude, you knew that this would be no ordinary night at the opera. A hundred minutes later, the last harsh chord sounded, a stunned audience burst into a prolonged ovation, and it seemed as though the grand old Met had been the scene of a revolution."
(The New Yorker, 30 November 2009)

"… you sensed a milestone in the making. And this sense carried right through the 90-minute performance to the final tableaus."
(The New York Times, 14 November 2009)

"It's a simultaneously sprawling and compact work, packing a suite of tragic stories, grotesque entertainments, acts of businesslike cruelty, and anthropological observations into 100 minutes of burning music."
(New York Magazine, 30 November 2009)

    Sung in Czech with German surtitles
    approx. 1:40 h | no interval
    • Synopsis

      ACT I
      Daybreak at a prison camp. The prisoners are attending to their morning tasks before assembling for the drudgery ahead. Quarrels are rife. They are interrupted by the arrival of the new inmate Goryanchikov, imprisoned for political activism and who immediately becomes the centre of attention for the common-law detainees and the focus of the commandant’s hostility. His possessions are confiscated and he is beaten. In the meantime the prisoners are admiring an eagle, brought by the old prisoner.

      Some of the prisoners march off to work, the others go about their daily chores in the camp. Among those are the young Tatar Alyeya, Luka and Skuratov, who recalls his life in Moscow. Luka relates how he came to kill he commandant during a previous spell behind bars and the flogging he received for that, before being sent to the labour camp. Goryanchikov is dragged in, half dead from his flogging.

      ACT II
      Half a year later. The prisoners are busy with their chores. Goryanchikov and Alyeya have become friends, and the boy is talking about his sister and his mother. The elder one offers to teach him to read and to write. The sound of the bells marks the end of the chores and the start of a night of celebration.

      After the visit of a pope, the prisoners eat. Before the show which is about to be performed by some of the group, Skuratov recounts why he landed in the labour camp: the murder of a rich German his sweetheart Luisa was forced to marry. Guests arrive and all take their places for the performance about to commence.

      The prisoners enact »Kedril and Don Juan«, followed by »The Miller's Fair Wife«, tales of seduction. The evening was coming to a close. One of the prostitutes who entered the camp goes off with a prisoner. Goryanchikov and Alyeya are drinking tea together. This arouses the envy of an inmate, who attacks Alyeya and injures him with a knife.

      ACT III
      In the prison hospital, Goryanchikov watches over the feverish Alyeya. Chekunov offers them some tea, provoking words of contempt from the dying Luka. Shapkin recounts the tale of his burglary that backfired, as Skuratov lapses into madness.

      Shishkov’s story draws the group’s attention: he relates how he married a young girl named Akulina that a certain Filka had boasted of having dishonoured. But it turned out that Akulina was still a virgin on her wedding night. Anyway he learned from his wife that she actually loved Filka. Losing control of himself, Shishkov slit her throat. As the story winds to an end, Luka dies. Shishkov now recognizes him as none other than his rival Filka and reviles his corpse. A guard comes to get Goryanchikov.

      The governor announces to Goryanchikov that he is to be released. Alyeya embraces him, calling him dad: he now knows how to read. The prisoners release the restored eagle. Goryanchikov leaves the camp as the convicts return to their chores.