Janacek: From the House of the Dead / Skovhus, Sotnikova, Young, Bavarian Radio Symphony

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Also available on Blu-ray Death is never far away in Leoš Janácek’s work: in The Cunning Little Vixen, the main character falls under the fire...
Also available on Blu-ray

Death is never far away in Leoš Janácek’s work: in The Cunning Little Vixen, the main character falls under the fire of a hunter, Katia Kabanova kills herself, Emilia Marty in The Makropulos Case has to deal with the hard consequences of eternal youth. From the House of the Dead makes no exception, especially since the composer knew he was living out his final days when he decided to adapt into an opera Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s eponymous novel, a literary work inspired by the time the novelist spent in a Siberian prison. This painful feeling of ineluctability pervades through his disillusioned and savage score, that recounts the hopeless life of the convicts of a Soviet concentration camp. In this place where life has already drawn out, in this no man’s land forsaken by civilization, Janácek portrays the anonymous and daily sufferings, the abuses, the corporal punishments, but also evokes fragments from the prisoners’ past, bringing them back to life for the duration of a game or of a story. Against this background that contrasts the empathic solidarity of simple men with the horrific brutality of the prison guards, stage director Frank Castorf - who created a memorable Ring Cycle in Bayreuth for the Wagner Bicentennial in 2013 - embraces the aesthetics of grotesque and absurd suggested by Janácek’s score, and chooses to crudely display, with stark realism, the physical and psychological violence at the heart of the opera. In the pit, conducting the house orchestra, Simone Young underlines the power plays and the overwhelming lyricism unleashed by Janácek’s music. As the main protagonists, Peter Rose, Charles Workman and Bo Skhovus, all familiar with Janácek’s subtleties, bring back to life these agonizing anti-heroic characters forsaken by God and men.



The singing is excellent. Bo Skovhus is brilliant: his Third Act account of Siskov’s killing is arguably the dramatic highlight of the opera. Peter Rose as Gorjanikov and Evgeniya Sotnikova as Aljeja are also thoroughly compelling in their difficult roles. Janácek’s music is not easy to sing, not least because its Czech language is unfamiliar to most opera singers, but this cast, featuring many non-Czechs, turn in fine, committed performances right down to the smallest roles.

Simone Young and the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra deliver a vital, spirited performance of the music, and the chorus turns in splendid work as well. Conductor Young employs very lively but not hasty tempos, and her deft phrasing otherwise captures the pointed character of Janá?ek’s imaginative writing. She fully grasps his style and draws the most from this fine score. The sound reproduction, picture clarity, and especially the camera work are all excellent.

– MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 14, 2020

  • UPC: 3760115301733

  • Catalog Number: BAC173

  • Label: BelAir Classiques

  • Number of Discs: 1