I was at the opening of the Royal Opera's production of From the House of the Dead, Janáček's last opera, on Wednesday evening and was disturbed by my reaction to it. So thought I ought to go back and see it again last night!
Pascal Charbonneau as Aljeja and Ladislav Elgr as Skuratov in From The House of The Dead
I have always found this piece totally absorbing, never failing to capture me through the intensity of Janáček at his most burning, and the bleakness of the subject (there isn't really a narrative/plot in the conventional sense.) The three great productions of recent decades have been those of David Pountney, Patrice Chereau, and Peter Mussbach - Brussels 1991. Here we had the Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski, known for his "subversive" productions of Greek tragedies apparently. My only previous experience of his work was a rather irritating "production" of Handel's Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix in 2016. He is clearly a man of formidable intelligence, personality, persuasiveness, and craftsmanship. However I found the emotional deficit, my inability to engage with the desperate condition of these humans in Warlikowski's sanitized depiction of their plight, upsetting in completely the wrong way! So I thought I would go back for another look from a different angle, in the orchestra stalls left rather than stalls circle extreme right!
Well it didn't really help very much but I was able to admire once again the superb cast of seven tenors (I think) with exceptional performances by Štefan Margita, Ladislav Elgr, Nicky Spence, Peter Hoare, John Graham Hall, Pascal Charbonneau and, last but not least, the remarkable Graham Clark still going very strong indeed all those years after his Wexford debut in a tiny part in Prokofiev's The Gambler in 1973. And notable amongst the lower voices were Johan Reuter's Šiśkov and Willard White (Gorjančikov). Here was as strong a cast cast as one could imagine, welded together by Mark Wiggleworth whose Jánaček credentials have already been sealed in London with Jenůfa during his only too brief spell at ENO. The orchestra and chorus are of course two of the great glories of our Royal Opera and here they were displayed at their very best.
© Tristram Kenton/The Guardian
Stefan Margita (Luka Kuzmic), Graham Clark (Antonic), Nicky Spence (Nikita) and Grant Doyle (Cekunov)
So I went away happy you will be glad to hear! And you should go too to hear as fine as musical achievement as this - 100 minutes (no interval) of top class work by any standard.