OPERA IN THREE ACTS
Libretto by the composer Leoš Janáček after Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky's Aufzeichnungen aus einem Totenhaus
In a Siberian prison camp, there are no heroes. Whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, nobles or commoners – everyone is equal here, united in a horror that never ends. Fyodor Dostoyevsky experienced this personally and described it in precise detail in his Notes from the House of the Dead. These provided the material for Janáček’s final opera, which appeals to our sympathy on the basis that there is »a spark of God in every creature.« Janáček, whose music was inspired by listening to individual human speech, gives each inmate his own voice, only for them to sink into polyphonic anonymity and indifference. Raw sounds and insistent rhythms make the harsh reality of life in the campalmost physically tangible. Star director and stage designer Dmitri Tcherniakov takes this idea even further in the vast dimensions of the Jahrhunderthalle: abolishing the division between the artists and the audience in one giant, walk-through stage installation. We inhabit a merciless prison world, inseparably incarcerated with those whom fate has abandoned, who now mark out an existence as the living dead. Together with them, we move through everyday lives spent in undignified brawling and drinking. Luka tells us, his fellow prisoners, how he stabbed his commanding officer as revenge for his despotism. Skuratov describes how he shot a wealthier rival for his beloved Luisa. Šiškov reveals how he slit his innocent bride Akulina’s throat out of jealousy. Are we interested in their sorrow, their anger, their regrets? Or do we turn our backs, distance ourselves from these unfortunate failures, and observe them from afar? We are with them at night, when they are crying, we are with them in the infirmary when they talk in a fever, when they are dying. We even watch their frivolous theatre productions to break up the grinding camp routine. Do we feel empathy for them?
Produced by Ruhrtriennale.
© Courtesey of Universal Edition AG Wien