I'm acquainted with Leos Janáek's operas 'Jenufa' and 'The Little Vixen'. However, this is my first encounter with his 100 minute work based on Dostoevsky's 'Memoir From The House Of The Dead'.
The handful of people who read my reviews may complain that I only write raves. That's an accusation I gladly accept. From an early age I learned to be discerning - courtesy of my parents - and I have an instinct, a nose, for what could be good and what not. If I sound audacious, be that as it may. I won't waste time, space or energy on anything infra dig.
'From The House Of The Dead' is an experience. This production, conducted by the enigmatic Pierre Boulez and directed by Patrice Chéreau, is mind-blowing. Janácek's music is in itself ambrosia for the soul. Set in a Siberian prison it deals with the past and present of it's characters. It's a difficult opera to stage, mainly because it requires 17 male soloists and an enormous chorus. Only four women appear for a brief moment to stage a concert - which is never performed - and only one woman sings about four bars.
Prison life ipso facto implicates strong homoerotic undercurrents. Both Dostoevsky and Janácek are/were regarded as either latent homosexual or living it under highly secretive circumstances. In the two so-called pantomime scenes Thierry Thieû Niang's choreography (not dancing but highly stylised movements) the sexual tension is tangible. Moreover the (innocent) nobleman Gorjancikov asks young Alyeya: "Do you have a sister?" And continues: "She must be very beautiful if she looks like you." Henceforth the relationship is tender and mutually protective.
However, neither the libretto or the director focuses only on this aspect. A prison is fraught with danger. Anger. Aggression. And prisoners are stripped of all dignity. Incidentally, the one scene where they're stripped down to their naked bodies is not erotic at all. It's heart wrenching.
Leos Janácek's opera contains no pretty arias. It's durchkomponiert with some superb orchestral interludes which the director visually utilises. Conductor, orchestra, chorus and soloists, director, choreographer and designers make this an unforgettable unit.
Yes, I'm swooning. 10/10
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