By Ronnie Rocket, in Berlin-Charlottenburg
The Staatsoper im Schiller Theater season will open on October 3, 2011 with Leoš Janáček’s From the House of the Dead staged by Patrice Chéreau and conducted by Simon Rattle as conductor, which is an obvious attraction for those yet to see the production, originally conducted in Aix by Pierre Boulez.
Leoš Janáček’s opera deals with power, relationships, passions and indignities; ultimately it portrays the hopeless misery of a Siberian prison camp, which could be seen as a symbol of a society that exists parallel to ours. Each of the three acts tells a story that tries to cope with life and the desperate melancholy: a dream, a report of a crime and the memory of a woman. The narrative helps to survive and a utopia of freedom to come.
Read the synopsis and watch previews (from a production by Theater Bonn and Beethovenfest Bonn in 2004 directed by Tomaž Pandur) here:
Daybreak at a prison camp. The prisoners are attending to their morning tasks before assembling for the drudgery ahead. Quarrels are rife. They are interrupted by the arrival of the new inmate Goryanchikov, imprisoned for political activism and who immediately becomes the centre of attention for the common-law detainees and the focus of the commandant’s hostility. His possessions are confiscated and he is beaten. In the meantime the prisoners are admiring an eagle, brought by the old prisoner.
Some of the prisoners march off to work, the others go about their daily chores in the camp. Among those are the young Tartar Alyeya, Luka and Skuratov, who recalls his life in Moscow. Luka relates how he came to kill he commandant during a previous spell behind bars and the flogging he received for that, before being sent to the labour camp. Goryanchikov is dragged in, half dead from his flogging.
Half a year later. The prisoners are busy with their chores. Goryanchikov and Alyeya have become friends, and the boy is talking about his sister and his mother. The elder one offers to teach him to read and to write. The sound of the bells marks the end of the chores and the start of a night of celebration.
After the visit of a pope, the prisoners eat. Before the show which is about to be performed by some of the group, Skuratov recounts why he landed in the labour camp: the murder of a rich German his sweetheart Luisa was forced to marry. Guests arrive and all take their places for the performance about to commence.
The prisoners enact »Kedril and Don Juan«, followed by »The Miller’s Fair Wife«, tales of seduction. The evening was coming to a close. One of the prostitutes who entered the camp goes off with a prisoner. Goryanchikov and Alyeya are drinking tea together. This arouses the envy of an inmate, who attacks Alyeya and injures him with a knife.
In the prison hospital, Goryanchikov watches over the feverish Alyeya. Chekunov offers them some tea, provoking words of contempt from the dying Luka. Shapkin recounts the tale of his burglary that backfired, as Skuratov lapses into madness.
Shishkov’s story draws the group’s attention: he relates how he married a young girl named Akulina that a certain Filka had boasted of having dishonoured. But it turned out that Akulina was still a virgin on her wedding night. Anyway he learned from his wife that she actually loved Filka. Losing control of himself, Shishkov slit her throat. As the story winds to an end, Luka dies. Shishkov now recognizes him as none other than his rival Filka and reviles his corpse. A guard comes to get Goryanchikov.
The governor announces to Goryanchikov that he is to be released. Alyeya embraces him, calling him dad: he now knows how to read. The prisoners release the restored eagle. Goryanchikov leaves the camp as the convicts return to their chores.
Listen to a recording of the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado on Spotify here.
Listen to a recording of the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras on Spotifyhere.
Ticket information here.
Read the history of the Staatsoper here.