Opera Scotland

From the House of the Dead Z mrtvého domu

Music
Leoš Janáček (born Hukvaldy, 3 July 1854; died Ostrava, 12 August 1928)

Text
The composer.

Source
Novel Memoirs from the House of the Dead (1862), by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881).

Premières
First performance: Brno (National Theatre), 12 April 1930.
First UK performance: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 28 August 1964.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 25 February 1987.

Background
The idea of an opera set entirely within the confines of a Tsarist era labour camp in Siberia sounds to be one of the most depressing and miserable subjects chosen by any composer. It is an extraordinary fact that, harrowing as this work is, there can be few operas apart perhaps from Fidelio, that end with such an inspiring situation – merely the release of a bird which the men have nursed back to health. Janáček died before completing his revisions to the score and the first performances were in a form edited by his pupils Chlubna and Bakala. Since then work has been done to interpret and clarify Janáček’s last thoughts and reach a closer idea of what the composer intended. Most of the characters are unnamed, merely distinguished by description – tall, short, old, etc.

Main Characters
Alexandr Petrovič Gorjančikov (baritone)
Aljeja, a Tartar boy (mezzo-soprano)
Filka Morozov, alias Luka Kuzmič (tenor)
Prison Governor (bass)
Skuratov, a mad prisoner (tenor)
Šapkin (tenor)
Šiškov (baritone)

Plot Summary
In the camp a new prisoner, Gorjančikov, arrives. The Governor interrogates him and orders him to be flogged. The men are ordered to go to work and leave a broken-winged eagle which is admired by them, since it continues to cling obstinately to life. Some of the men are left indoors, and Luka quarrels with Skuratov, whose constant singing is an irritant. Skuratov then does a frenzied dance before collapsing. Luka recounts details of his previous imprisonment, and how he fomented a rebellion before killing a guard. He gives details of the flogging he received as Gorjančikov is dragged in after his own flogging. A year passes and the routine continues. Gorjančikov, a gentleman in his earlier existence, offers to teach Aljeja to read. At the end of the working day, when the men are eating, Skuratov recounts details of his crime, of murdering the man his girl had been forced to marry. The men put on an entertainment, consisting of two short plays. A fight breaks out which is brought to an end by the guards. There follows a scene set some time later in the camp hospital. Luka is dying, and angered by the fact that Aljeja, who is delirious, is being looked after. Šapkin recounts the story of his interrogation by the police. Šiškov’s story follows next – he had killed his girl when he suspected that she still loved her previous man, Filka Morozov. As he finishes this story, Luka dies, and Šiškov, looking at the corpse, recognises him as the same Filka Morozov. The Governor announces that Gorjančikov is to be released. After he goes the men release the eagle, with its wing now healed.

The Cast

Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov
 
Alyeya
 a young Tartar
Blacksmith Prisoner
 
Chekunov
 
Cherevin
 
Cook Prisoner
 Osip
Drunken Prisoner
 
Filka Morozov
 Luka Kuzmich
Guard
 
Large Prisoner
 Yermalov
Old Prisoner
 Antonov
Priest
 
Prison Governor
 
Prisoner
 playing the role of Kedril
Prisoner
 playing the role of Don Juan
Prostitute
 Chekunda
Shapkin
 
Shishkov
 
Skuratov
 the mad prisoner
Small Prisoner
 Bulkin
Young Prisoner
 Sirotkin

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