Janacek: a few glosses on his operas.
A conventional approach might well be to take a few general historical or musicological concepts in music and then look at the whole set of Janacek's operas in terms of the applicability or otherwise of these concepts, but in the relatively small space I have here I am not sure that the answers would be satisfactory ... In other words, I have not chosen the method that would bracket all the operas together in one set and analyse them altogether in terms of labels like "verism", "radical folklorism", "impressionism and the field of sound and literary impressions", "expressionism", or--if we go on to structural phenomena--"montage", "collage", "monologue-dialogue" and so forth. What I shall do instead is simply take each opera individually and ask the question of how far we really have a grasp of what really informed the opera in terms of musical context and subject. Here the input of directors plays an important role, since their interpretations are what often provoke us to wonder how far directors can go, what is still part of Janacek's musical and literary poetics, and what has been simply more or less effectively tacked on ...
The two versions of the opera were written in the years 1887 and 1888. The author of the libretto Julius Zeyer refused to allow his text to be used and so the opera could not be staged. Sarka's plot is taken from Czech mythology and it is in this light that it is usually regarded, with the assumption that Janacek was here at his closest to an opera with a Czech national theme partly inspired by material from the Zelenohorsky Manuscript (a supposedly ancient manuscript later proved a fake but in its time taken up by Czech national revivalists). In Zeyer's Sarka, however, we find elements foreshadowing the decadence that was to make a remarkable breakthrough into Czech literature with Vrchlicky's trilogy Hippodamie (1889-91). Almost no attention has been paid to the affinity between the poetic image of Hippodamie and Wilde's Salome or other decadent subjects, and in Zeyer's text we actually find these tones more than once. Right at the beginning Premysl declares that, "Morana the pale calls! She has the form of Vlasta who wields a sword". Even more suggestive, however, is the image of Ctirad ascending into Libuse's tomb. Zeyer writes, "In the middle stands a golden throne, on which rests the dead Libuse, wrapped in a thick veil, on her head a golden crown." At the end of Act 1 Ctirad's words: "And pleasure and death my soul convulse!" offer a remarkable decadent union of bliss and death.
In his monograph Leos Janacek (Obraz zivotniho a umeleckeho boje. V poutech tradice. [A Picture of Struggle in Life and Art. In the bonds of tradition) (Brno 1939) Vladimir Helfert noticed the composer's consistent tendency to turn away from the prevalent two-, four- or eight-bar phrasing ("this three-bar pattern then becomes a particularly distinctive phenomenon in Janacek's musical idiom"). Quite surprisingly, Helfert considers that "in this musical sensibility in three-bar patterns [there is] undoubtedly a folk influence". Janacek generally treated Zeyer's text respectfully. Once I made the attempt to summarise all the metrical deviations and peculiarities (In: Janacek a Zeyeruv vers v opere Sarka. SPFFBU, H 21--1986, pp. 41-49). For the sake of brevity all I shall report here is that Zeyer's free verse varies in line length by as much as 10 syllables. This will perhaps be evident from the following data taken from the first hundred verses of the 1st Act of the libretto. In this sample we find 2 two-syllable lines, 3 three-syllable, 9 five-syllable, 18 six-syllable, 12 seven-syllable, 26 eight-syllable, 15 nine-syllable, 11 ten-syllable, and 2 eleven-syllable lines. Zeyer keeps to an iambic metre by using anacrusis, which Janacek declaims generally on the last arsis of a bar or else neutralises by using corresponding values: "Kles s tebou" as a half-note triplet, Tam najdes as three quavers and sometimes, in fact quite often, even prolonging the anacrusis as against the subsequent text.
To make an automatic connection between the Wagnerian attributes of the text (Siegfried's sword and Trut's flail) and the music of assumed Late Romantic orientation, is to express the situation in only very approximate terms. The musical logic of Sarka is in fact already close to interest in the melody of speech. Janacek was to start recording these speech melodies systematically only subsequently, but the interest was already fundamentally formed in his mind. We should remember that in his monastery boarding school years and during his studies Janacek had already showed an unusual concern with phonetics and declamation, so that the ground was already laid for the basic change that came when he finally immersed himself in folklore, taught himself to make fast, precise records and then used this ability for the continual recording of the situations that fascinated him in the form of speech melodies. The period of his life in which he as it were retreated into the world of folksong and music followed the composition of Sarka and is one of the most interesting features of Janacek's creative development and of the evolution of Czech music as a whole at that time. Figuratively speaking, the composer progressively wrapped himself up in the protective case of a musical activity that involved deliberate renunciation of the primacy of original composition and was also perfectly to impregnate (and almost to stop) his development as a composer and postpone his fundamental creative dilemma for more than a decade. After Sarka, Janacek had no need to move forward to Late Romanticism and its great syntheses. The apparent negligibility of folklorism (especially as far as major exploits in form were concerned), threw him in the direction of sound quality and rhythm. Paradoxically, Zeyer's refusal to allow the opera to be staged actually worked to the benefit of this profound transformation.
We now have a recording of Sarka in Sir Charles Mackerras's interpretation and it is of a standard that allows us to think seriously about the possibilities of actually staging the opera. Freed from the mythology and associated Czech historicism that has remained like silt on the Czech stage from as far back as the times of Smetana's Libuse, especially in relation to costume, or perhaps with radical changes that may be against the spirit of Zeyer and even of Janacek?! The director J.A. Pitinsky has managed to revive Fibich-Vrchlicky's Death of Hippodamie for the modern audience in a remarkable way, and I hope that Sarka's time will come too.
The Beginning of a Romance
Some years ago, at the beginning of a musicological career that has had such notable results for Janacek scholarship, John Tyrrell showed that despite the enthusiasm of the local critics (K.Sazavsky in the Moravian Eagle of the 13th of February 1894 welcomed the little work as a major oeuvre and stressed that Janacek had won three garlands: silver, laurel and "... from national offerings" (Tyrrell comments that national offerings were collections for charitable purposes, the contributors rewarded with receipts on card or stickers. In this case well-wishers probably clubbed together to buy Janacek a third wreath), this second opera was just a singspiel composition put together ad hoc, with Janacek adapting existing music to the text. The composer himself admitted this in an apparently self critical statement in his autobiography of 1924. Tyrrell makes a telling comment on this passage in a note to his English translation in his book Janacek's Operas--A documentary Account (Faber and Faber, London 1992): "'bylo nevkusno mi vnucovat do neho narodni pisnicky'(...) The Czech is ambiguous. [It could mean]: It was tasteless of me to force folksong into it or I hated putting the folksongs into it'. By his quotation of a bad example from the piece, it seems that he was reproaching not himself but his librettist for forcing in the folksongs." (Tyrrell, op.cit., p. 40)
It therefore seems entirely understandable that both conductors of the National Theatre in Prague--Adolf Cech and Moric Anger--failed to recommend the work when asked for a view by the director F.A. Subert. Anger considered it a repetition of the principles employed in the ballet Rakos Rakoczy and noted, quite acutely, that it was more a liederspiel than an opera. Nonetheless, even the negative consequences of these events were to be significant for Janacek's further thoughts on opera. John Tyrrell aptly made the point when he gave his first study of the theme the subtitle The musical prehistory of Janacek's: Pocatek romanu and its importance in shaping the composer's dramatic style (In: Casopis Moravskeho muzea [Journal of the Moravian Museum], CMM LII-1967, Scientiae sociales, pp. 245-270). It would be folly to believe that the little work hides some exceptional residuum of style that has not yet been uncovered. What is probably more important is that with this apparently regressive creation Janacek's interest in Late Romanticism came to a radical halt. So far it has not proved possible to rehabilitate the work on stage in any way that challenges the judgements set out above. The one exception has been Magdalena Svecova's production in the composer's jubilee year of 2004. The director underlined the work's character as Liederspiel and achieved what has hitherto been clearly the best performance.
Nonetheless, it is important to add that in the Beginning of a Romance Janacek consolidated a convention that he had already discovered for himself in Sarka, i.e. one character quoting the statement of another. For the sake of brevity I have called this convention "monologue-dialogue". In Sarka we find it used in the very first lines of Ctirad, who introduces himself to Premysl and his entourage by repeating what his father has told him. In the same way Poluska "quotes" the young lord's invitation to her to return. In neither case is this use of quotation particularly important or a determinant for the music, but what is not yet the case may become so. Later, the citation of some statement fundamental to the action in the spirit of Aeschylean drama was to become something very typical of Janacek, and we shall be able to give this point more emphasis as we move on to the third opera. The decade between the Beginning of a Romance and the third opera, Jenufa, was, however, the period of the miraculous birth of what was as it were a quite different Janacek--the composer after the cantata Amarus, who seemed to arise like the Phoenix from the fire of the 1870s/80s into the new century.
Historical discussion of this opera, which has been the crucial work for Janacek's entry onto the European operatic stage, today tends to revolve round the question of Karel Kovarovic's retouches. It is also fashionable to refer wittily to the basic aversion to the work expressed by Zdenek Nejedly, as formulated in his book Czech Modern Opera since Smetana (J.Otto, Praha 1911). Believing as I do that very few of the people willing to make sweeping judgements have actually had the opportunity to examine these two sources, I shall return to them at least fleetingly. The director of National Theatre's opera Kovarovic retouched works in many cases (for example Smetana's My Country), and so his retouches of Janacek are nothing odd and unusual. It is to succumb to mythmaking to interpret them as sheer violation of Janacek's score, and we might well respond by asking why, in that case, Janacek did not immediately insist on the use of the "original version" of the opera immediately after Kovarovic's death on the 6th of December 1920. The answer is probably that it did not exist in accessible form and that it needed to be recovered on the basis of study of the sources. This was something not accomplished until the years 1996-97, by John Tyrrell and Sir Charles Mackerras, when they published their "Brno Version 1908" (Leos Janacek: Jenufa--Jeji pastorkyna / Ihre Stieftochter / Her Stepdaughter, Brnenska verze / Bruenner Fassung / Brno Version 1908, UE 30 145, Universal Edition Wien, undated, preface dated 1996).
Everyone who has engaged in detail with the question of the retouches has not been entirely sure whether they should be accepted or rejected. This point is very well illustrated, for example, in the monograph Zur Genesis von Leos Janaceks Oper Jenufa (Univerzita J.E. Purkyne, Brno 1971) by Bohumir Stedron, who even after a lifetime's study of the matter cannot bring himself to reject all of Kovarovic's changes ... As a brilliant essayist, Milan Kundera takes another view, of course, and homes in on the literary essence of the dispute. For him there can be no compromise but only emphatic condemnation of those who wanted to bring Janacek into line with the practice of the time. It is a hard-line argument that brooks no answer, as in the case of the dilemma Kafka versus Brod. See Milan Kundera's Testaments Betrayed.
A quick comment on Nejedly: He attacked Janacek in the book mentioned as a representative of a separatist Moravian trend. He writes: "[One] movement wants Moravia to take up a position alongside Bohemia and compete with Bohemia (of course when it acquires the necessary resources especially by building a National Theatre) on the field of the same, nation-wide art. Another movement wants Moravia to become, on the contrary, as independent as possible and to create something peculiarly its own that would be only Moravian and would therefore represent the art of the country." Janacek in his view belongs to this second movement and Nejedly argues against it specifically by saying, "There was no Moravian music in the past, and so it is entirely against the spirit of progress to want today to make an artificial distinction between these elements of Czech national art". And we should probably remind ourselves of another quote from Nejedly as well, because it is highly material: "For all his naturalism in terms of content, on the question of national music Janacek is just like the neo-Russian composers in being a manifest formalist, which today, after the work of Smetana, is definitely a step backwards in Czech opera. Janacek was once an explicit opponent of Smetana, and today we still cannot rank him among Smetana's supporters. His hostility to Smetana was once a result of his musical conservatism, but as is clear at first sight this is something he has overcome, and today both in musical (harmonic) terms and in terms of his dramatic style, entirely taken from spoken drama, he gives the impression of being a directly progressive composer." And Nejedly continues, "The chief theoretical error of Janacek's experiment, but one which he shares with the Neo-Russian school and other theories of national music specifically among Slav nations, is the principle that in Slav opera song ought to be the main thing and the orchestra should only come second."
Here Nejedly is generalising too much on the basis of a limited knowledge of Jenufa, which he certainly had not seen performed in Brno or in Ostrava by 1911 when he wrote his book. At best he would have been dependent on the Brno Club of the Friends of Art piano reduction, undoubtedly the source of the only noted example in his account, on page 189--Jenufa's "With those persecuting eyes right to the heart, right to the heart" from Scene 1, Act 1. Nejedly's criticism of the speech melodies signally fails to identify the specific features of the use of these forms in the opera, but there is nothing personal about the general part of his criticism of the theory--it is simply a different vision of opera and its poetics. Nejedly writes that: "Janacek builds his theory of national and folk music on what is called a 'speech melody', which for him is the musical motif of a certain form of vernacular speech. It is an opinion that derives from the last outcrops of scholarly romanticism in the study of folk song, music and speech. What this Romanticism does is to invest this form of expression with an enormous amount of atmosphere and psychological depth, when in fact this is precisely what sober research into this expression can never find (...) This is why this Romanticism, as soon as it is transferred into practical art, always weakens rather than strengthens any genuine folk character in that art. Janacek's work is a case in point. His drama fails to be strong in terms of folk spirit because he bases folk character on the external, which he believes to be the expression of great spiritual depth but which is in fact often quite incidental, and its effect is therefore doubtful." (Nejedly, op.cit., pp. 189-190). Nejedly points out Janacek's dichotomy--the voice element contra the orchestra. He attributes to Janacek the position of a composer who subordinates the orchestra to the vocal expression. After all that had gone before Janacek or was still reverberating in his time, Nejedly regards this as manifest regression and anachronism. And on page 190 he adds this interesting passage, "At points where Janacek does not come into contact with this body (meaning orchestra) and where his one-sided cult of the vocal element is not therefore detrimental to the power of the other element, the results are incomparably better. His choral works far surpass his dramatic work in artistic value and folk character."
It is interesting that no one reviewing Jenufa on the Czech side, whether in Brno in 1904 or in Prague in 1916, was willing to consider the verism of the opera, even though it is an opera so distinctive for its strong regionalism and the importance of the colour and atmosphere of a very specific place. In general, the verist replacement of the universal by the strongly regional setting aroused international admiration, and in a musicologist of Nejedly's erudition what therefore emerged as a certain prudery in relation to world movements is surprising. The reason for his reserve seems to be a combination of a curious modesty and the sense that Czech art had "different" tasks. Vladimir Macura in his excellent book Znameni zrodu [The Sign of Birth] has reminded us that in the period before March 1848, Czech writers considered the education of the people and similar improving aspirations to be far more essential than the primarily aesthetic aspect of a book or play ... Perhaps this provides a clue as to why while the focus on the folklore and regional detail is one of the most interesting sides to Janacek's opera, Czech society seems to have been uninterested in it. By contrast, the Viennese critics in 1918 were in no doubt: in Korngold's review we find the characterisation "verism in the subject, impressionism in the orchestra." In Austria there were plenty of users and abusers of operatic verism and if Nejedly's distaste for it, purist to the point of puritanical, was not entirely isolated, that distaste simply highlights the late national revivalist attitudes for which every new Czech opera had to be above all a national opera. Paradoxically, then, what we have here is a national universalism clashing with a veristic internationally acknowledged regionalism. In the case of Jenufa none of the Czech critics were struck by the fact that the novelty of the opera lay above all in the way it narrowed the setting to the mountainous region of Moravian Slovacko, a very distinctive region with a strong folk tradition.
If in 1911 Nejedly decidedly rejected Moravian opera as such, seven years later the situation took another paradoxical twist. At the end of 1917 the collapsing Austria-Hungarian Monarchy made a last attempt to keep its territories intact precisely by seeking to stress regional and provincial (as opposed to separatist national) identity. The Vienna production of Jenufa was staged on the 21 st of February 1918 despite challenges in parliament from the Moravian German deputies Schuerf, Weber and Wedra and was staged "auf allerhoechste Anordnung"--i.e. directly by the decision of the Emperor Karl. This situation put Janacek in difficult political position (in the sense of making him apparently "loyal" to the court), because his "Moravian" opera became par excellence the subject of a degree of manipulation of the criticism through court cultural politics. At that point, of course, it still seemed that the "verism" of Jenufa would be a permanent guarantee of folklorism of staging--costumes, customs etc. Contemporary directors do not feel bound to respect these aspects and on the contrary have reset the opera in a time of declining village traditions or even in different, virtually neutral black-and-white ceremonial costumes (Glyndebourne Theatre) with something almost Klezmeresque about them, or just with a minimum of folk "professionals" (Pountney in Vienna and in Brno 2004).
I was actually present at the "world premiere" on the 25th of October 1958 at the Na hradbach Theatre in Brno, then known as the Janacek
Theatre. I well remember the awkwardness of the production in overall direction and almost all particular aspects. It was clear from the start that the problem was one of the incompatibility between the libretto, itself an incongruous mixture of the rather ephemeral and affected poetic language of Fedora Bartosova (supposed to resemble the style of the poets of Czech Art Nouveau and Decadence), and Janacek's now almost ten years of experience with naturalism and the prose of the speech melodies and Janacek's music, which in Czech conditions brilliantly synthesised experience of Impressionism and Verism with the first waves of Expressionism.
Janacek's new monologue-dialogue convention (i.e. the quotation or imitation of what another character had said or might say in a particular situation), had already become conspicuous in Jenufa. In Sarka and the Beginning of a Romance the quotations concerned had been minor and dramatically rather formal, but the method had evidently caught Janacek's attention and he turned it into a stronger and permanent element of his idiom. One example is when Kostelnicka decides to take action under the onslaught of the as yet imaginary words of the crowd, coming down on her with the words, "Vidite ji, Kostelnicku!!"--"You see her, Kostelnicka". From now on Janacek was always prepared to employ monologue-dialogue whenever it was potentially more interesting and paradoxically "more dramatic" than dialogue. In monologue, after all, an individual is imitating someone else and so actually "interpreting" that other person--parodying, emphasising particular features. This method reaches its apogee in his final opera, as we shall see below.
There have been plenty of attempts to "fix" the libretto of Fate as a means to making a breakthrough in its staging (and I have seen almost all of them), but up to Wilson they have failed to convince. The "formal" approach (which means virtually completely abandoning any attempt to solve the illogicalities of the libretto and concentrating on the lighting plan and the choreography of the characters), perfectly bridged all the illogical passages. This is particularly evident at the ends of the 2nd and 3rd movements. Fate has thus become an opera between verism and lessons taken from impressionism with tinges of expressionism. It can be played on any kind of stage and it "only" requires a good dose of directorial imagination for it to become a scene from the life of the composer. Indeed, I even think that the time is ripe for presentation of its unintended charms, for example Janacek's exhibitionism in a difficult situation in life, his self-pity and masochism, and the unconscious charm arising from the almost comic combination of the two incongruous levels of the text and double poetics ... The opera has also benefited from all the translations, for example Rodney Blumer's used on Sir Charles Mackerras's recording with the Welsh National Opera (EMI CDC7 49993 2 1990), since these have toned down or even got rid of the over-exalted passages in Bartosova's text.
The Excursions of Mr. Broucek
Burlesque opera is something entirely new in Czech conditions, and as we reflect on Janacek's positive attitude to verism, we can now move on to the exotico type of verism that came to dominate the style after the rustico and borghese types and survived through the First World War to become part of the atmosphere of the avant-garde of the 1920s, as we can see in the case of Puccini's line of development from the pre-war western La fanciulla del West to Turandot. We should also note that while Janacek took a long time to write the first part of the Excursions, the second part was completed much faster, enabling the composer to react satirically and settle some scores with Zdenek Nejedly, for example, as has been demonstrated in an interesting way by Vladimir Karbusicky.
At a time when Janacek was seen as a representative of the exotic current of East European music and was pigeon-holed as a composer of a "national" school, it occurred to no one that the opera could be considered away from national context as the first to use the idea of waltz burlesque, together with Richard Strauss and his Rosenkavalier. Further directorial innovations can certainly be expected with Excursions, including more emphasis of its character as a sort of "musical", but despite new ideas of directors, we shall certainly be looking harder at the significance of a number of conventions that it exhibits--for any further Janacek opera analysis there remains plenty of inspiration to be tapped from John Tyrell's article Katarzni pomaly valcik a dalsi konvence ve finale Janackovych oper [The Cathartic Slow Waltz and Other Conventions in the Finales of Janacek's Operas] (In: Opus musicum, XX-1988, no. 10, pp. 289-311).
In Excursions, too, we can see an expansion of the monologue-dialogue passages, while one little known feature is the use of the viola d'amour. The instrument first appeared in Janacek's opera scores in the fourth opera Fate, but in Excursions the composer even considered using a whole group of the instruments. The finale to the 1 st part of the opera, although cut from the final version, is also testimony to something previously unknown in Czech opera--an almost collage-style chaos in the genuine finale concertato, representing a quarrel involving several people ... (Those interested in this situation will find it in the Supraphon recording Janacek Unknown (Supraphon 11 1878-2 931))
Musically, Excursions remain a great challenge to analysis because they contain the culminating synthesis of "modernism" with more compromising attempts to respond to the popularly successful line of European Opera at the beginning of the 20th century. We find something similar, for example, in the symphonic rhapsody Taras Bulba, where at times it is as if Janacek was longing for a Straussian and Novak-Suk style orchestra only to return to the conventions that he had developed for himself and was not about to abandon (fourth chords and melodic backgrounds no longer in the position of background, a preference for composing in layers, abandonment of two-, four- or eight-bar phrasing and the evolutionary motif-thematic stereotype, and especially the employment of montage techniques).
With this opera, which evidently brought Janacek the greatest success of his lifetime at the Berlin premiere on the 31st of May 1926 in Charlottenburg, what is striking is the composer's achievement in overcoming the stereotype of Russian colour and atmosphere. Gennady Rozhdestvensky put it very well in an interview he gave me for the Opus Musicum review in 1970: "I particularly respect Janacek's 'Russian' pieces above all because they are so perfectly free of external 'Russianness'. With his music Janacek expresses the very spirit of the works (I mean the literary models)--the inner power and, if you like, the internationalism of authors like Gogol, Ostrovsky and Dostoevsky. This analogy worked for me in parallel with the apparent "non-Russianness" of composers such as Scriabin or Shostakovich, for example, although you cannot imagine them outside Russia. Here too an ethnographic approach to their music is not the point; the point is the inner essence." (In: Opus musicum, 2--1970, no. 7, p. 204).
In this opera we find what is probably the most concentrated lyrical study of a woman in Janacek's output, and one that is a kind of modern counterpart to La Traviata. The director who has "shaken up" the poetics of the piece, in a positive sense, is Christoph Marthaler with his use of a high-rise modern communist housing estate (evidently Lesna in Brno) as the setting for his production. Petr Kofron has contributed the rather less fundamental but nonetheless interesting discovery that Katya could not actually have killed herself in her "own" town by jumping into the water, because along its entire bank is too shallow and muddy ... Be that as it may, when we look at the model Ostrovsky's Storm, in the Russian original (A. N. Ostrovskij: Storm, Forest, the Bride without a Dowry, Chudozhestvennaya literatura, Moskva 1968), we can see that Janacek altered the end of the story significantly. In the Ostrovsky story, Katya throws herself off a cliff, as we know from the comment of one of the men bringing in her lifeless body, "Of course she's not alive! She threw herself off a height--there is a cliff here and she fell on an anchor." As we see, Katya killed herself by falling on an anchor from a height, but Janacek, so as not to have to explain the circumstance in the moment of culminating tension when every second sentence is a dead weight, struck it out together with the moralising words of Kuligin that follow as he brings then dead Katya to Kabanov: "Take your Katherine! Do with her as you will! Here lies her body, take it. Her soul is no longer yours, it waits before a judge more merciful than yours ..." Moving, but a drag on the action, as Janacek, a dramatist of a different type, recognised. Incidentally, Janacek already knew from Peter Bogatyrev in 1926 that there already existed an opera of The Storm-Groza, and had even read extracts from its libretto, in which the great Ostrovsky entirely destroyed his own drama by changing his text into a kind of singspiel rhyming vaudeville.
The Cunning Little Vixen
An opera that juxtaposes the world of animals with the world of human beings is at the same time an opera with remarkable configurations of language layers. There are three very distinct language levels: the local dialect of the rural setting, Bilovice near Brno; an ordinary "universal" Czech with a tinge of Brno city slang; and hyper-correct Czech in the courtship of the fox and the vixen. This presented a major problem for example in German-speaking environments, where the choice of dialect usually meant that a translation was suitable either for the north or south of Germany but not for both. Some of these problems have disappeared today thanks to modern technical development. What continues to be clear, however, is the striking sonority and richness of the timbres of the score, which approach Impressionism and have led many musicologists to comment on the "impressionism" of this opera in particular (e.g. Jan Racek: L'impressionisme de Janacek. In: Acta janackiana II, Czech Music Society-Leos Janacek Society, Brno 1985, pp. 45-50). The most pregnant expression of Janacek's interest in Debussian symbolism and impressionism seems to be his own analysis of La Mer, which I have twice published, most recently in the book Leos Janacek a hudba 20. stoleti. Paralely, sondy, dokumenty [Leos Janacekek and the Music of the 20th Century. Parallels, Probes, Documents] (Nadace Universitas Masarykiana, Scientia series, MU Brno 1998, pp. 82-86). Of all the composer's operas, it is the Cunning Little Vixen that seems to be the subject of the greatest changes in terms of directorial approach, but in terms of quality I believe that the most fundamental production of the opera has been Mackerras's Paris version, which manifestly inclines to the opera-ballet type so popular and historically rooted in France. Philosophically, the power of this opera is probably to do with the nostalgia that so perfectly harmonises with the original model and environment and has been so well defined and explored in the writings of Milan Kundera.
The Makropulos Affair
I once tried with the composer Arnost Parsch to analyse all the melodics of this opera using a computer. I hope that the exercise was useful methodologically and threw light on the relationship between Janacek's melodies of operatic type and the melodies based on speech and that we managed to document the probability of the occurrence of several intervals after others. On the other hand, probably the most striking result for us as the authors of the research and for anyone else interested in the theme was the generally logical, but here statistically proven discovery that two characters differ markedly from the others in the opera: they are Hauk, whose deviancy is evidently grounded in and supported by intervals, and Dr. Kolenaty, who as a lawyer is constantly quoting and so he often just repeats the same note. Tackling the libretto Janacek behaved like an experienced stage writer and eliminated all the long-drawn out philosophising commentaries in the style of economical TV scripts today. Janacek retained only the minimum from Capek's extensive philosophising, but this was clearly to the benefit of an opera that is modernistically tight and brisk. Purely personally, I regret that the libretto does not contain Capek's idea from the play, when just before her death Emilia Marty tells Bertik that "there is no love in the Universe." This is the almost Taoist climax in Capek's play. Musically the major influence in the Makropulos Case is that of the sound techniques of the avant-garde in the 1920s: fourth chords above all, but many others as well. We also see the ongoing development of the monologue-dialogue convention, already primed for its culminating deployment in the opera From the House of the Dead. In my view emphasis on the historicism of the Rudolphine setting and greater contrasts between the languages of the opera (German alongside Czech, Latin, Spanish and Greek) may characterise future directorial conceptions of this opera, and directors are happily already moving away from choosing singers for the main role with an eye to the character's supposed 300-year curriculum vitae and towards the youngest and most appropriate singers.
From the House of the Dead
This prison and even (increasingly in recent productions) concentration-camp opera, virtually devoid of women, is a great challenge for directors. It has the potential to be an ideal film or television opera, but perhaps its most remarkable characteristic is the timelessness of characters for whom life is only a memory and for whom there is no future. This means that its threesome of narratives--two long and one episodic--have something of the static sculptural relief about them, but the internal tension of the situation and the power of the monologues imitating past dialogues is so great that one doesn't even begin to wonder if a dialogic opera might have been more "dramatic". Konrad Lorenz reflected on what humanity is, how it was born and whether it is not already dying. Here Janacek--although he had a great interest in everything new in the first half of the 20th century--touched on an existentialism of almost Beckettian type but derived from another source. When composing his sketches of stage music for Gerhard Hauptmann's Schluck und Jau in the last year of his life, he came into contact--evidently for the first time in such extreme form--with the figures of homeless people who expect nothing and therefore have a different attitude to life. They very much resemble the characters of his last opera and foreshadow Beckett's protagonists in Waiting for Godot. One particular problem in the opera is the Russisms that Janacek included without always seeming to have understood every expression well himself, transferring them into the libretto from the Russian original apparently simply because he liked the way they sounded. Under pressure of production schedules, Osvald Chlubna and Bretislav Bakala, who revised the opera, often made decisions that go against the spirit of Dostoyevsky's text, and sometimes are even directly contradictory to it (See Milos Stedron: Errata v libretu Janackovy opery Z mrtveho domu [Errata in the Libretto to Janacek's Opera From the House of the Dead] (Dostoyevsky, Janacek, Bakala, Chlubna) In: Opus musicum, 26-1994, no. 7, pp. 201-204)
Can an editor, organiser and musician really advise directors and conductors on what to do next? Clearly, each successive era will emphasise different problems. What should be done with purely theoretical insights of the monologue-dialogue type? What about montage methods? Should we sometimes to take the thorny path back to the sources or to accept the working versions? Should we go back to the "original" form of Jenufa type and put the accent on the very difficult and complicated evidence of sketches and autographs, however much these are the product of the particular ideas of the time about sound and were later corrected by actual production experience (for example the group of violas d'amour in the Excursions of Mr. Broucek or the viola d'amour in The Fate, so far piously employed only by Mackerras, and so forth)? The best I can probably do in conclusion is to paraphrase Plato's Defense of Socrates by saying that "each of us goes his own way": organisers will go to their scores and scholars will return to their sources, while conductors, performers and directors will go to their podiums, stages and productions. They to their stage, we to the auditorium, and which is the better way--as Plato says--only God knows ...
The photos reproduced are property of Janacek's Archive of Moravian Land Museum. Photo: Jan Mikota
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2006|
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