From the House of the Dead, Opera by L. Janáček
Leoš Janáček, an avant-garde Czech composer with a knack for creative music and fantastical stories, did not live to see the premiere of his ultimate opera, From the House of the Dead. For it, he used Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The House of the Dead, published in 1862. Clearly inspired by the literary source, Janáček penned the libretto along with one of his most comprehensive musical compositions. The composer laboured on this piece until shortly before his passing on 12 August 1928, well aware of the ticking clock. On 12 April 1930, at the National Theatre Brno, Z mrtvého domu, the original Czech version of From the House of the Dead, made its debut and left a mark in musical circles around the world. Teatro dell'Opera di Roma brings a faithful revival to its stage in Rome this season.
Janáček left behind a more or less full score that was performance-ready when he died, and yet two of his pupils deemed it necessary to add instrumental music and soli to the work and to make the ending slightly more upbeat. Later productions typically return to the composer's original score for good reason because neither Dostoyevsky nor Janáček intended for this to be a happy-end kind of story. In terms of neoclassical music, the score is monumental in its weight and creativity. In addition to requiring a sizable orchestra, it also uses the sound of genuine chains to transport viewers to the atmosphere of a Siberian prison colony.
In From the House of the Dead, we focus on a political prisoner named Alexandr Petrovitch Goryantchikov who is the newest inmate at a Siberian prison for hardened criminals and political convicts. As he settles in with his fellow prison mates, they tell their amusing, tragic, and violent tales; friendships blossom and conflicts come to a head. From the House of the Dead is a truly remarkable meeting of two artistic titans. Janáček’s original and emotive music and his adherence to Dostoyevsky's source text cannot help but touch your soul. This season, the Rome Opera House is paying homage to two great 19th-century auteurs.