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An excellent production and cast make for a great performance fi lmed at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Janáček’s fi nal opera, From the House of the Dead, is pretty uncompromising in its adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel, with its lack of narrative drive, episodic lurches of story and pace, a play-within-play, almost all male cast, and general atmosphere of violence, gloom, oppression, boredom and yearning. It isn’t awash with redeeming qualities. Frank Castorf’s production is complex, layering the front of stage action with a large multi-tiered set on a revolve, plus video projections of the cast being fi lmed live in situ. It defi nitely requires more than one watch to take it all in because diff erent scenarios can play in diff erent places, or on screen, at the same time, though as is the case with opera on fi lm, some of the work is done for you – this time by director Andy Sommer, which helps keep us in the thick of the action without confusing us; inevitably we must miss things as decisions of focus have to be made (and even in the theatre we would each have to make our own personal decisions about where to look). Castorf merges the role of the innocent Aljeja with the eagle, symbol of freedom, combining to make a feather-bedecked showgirl, an arresting touch. The symbolism never stops, with images galore, not least the rabbits in their hutches, which I confess went over my head but apparently refers to Trotsky, who kept rabbits while in exile.

The cast is large and too numerous to acknowledge everyone, and there are no weak links. Bo Skovhus scores another career highlight as Šiškov and makes almost a mini-opera of his long scene. Peter Rose is an even-toned and dignifi ed Gorjančikov, though is Castorf suggesting a less than avuncular interest in Aljeja? Evgeniya Sotnikova is a fl ash of light in that role, Charles Workman a charismatic Skuratov, Callum Thorpe striking in his cameo as Don Juan in the play-within-play and Christian Rieger a chilling Governor. Simone Young’s conducting is controlled and sleek, perhaps at times it could be more abrasive, but it is a fi ne reading and one that suits Carstorf’s sophisticated take on the opera. Sorry to leave you with such a depressing opera in such times - I can’t promise that you will exactly enjoy it, but I can recommend it as an uplifting example of what opera can achieve in its blend of all the arts.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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