John Tyrrell on the new critical edition of Leoš Janácek’s From the House of the Dead:
Leoš Janáček did not live to see his final opera From the House of the Dead performed. The work was so different from his previous operas in its often chamber-like orchestration and its lack of an apotheosis ending that his pupils took it upon themselves to ‘revise’ it for its première in Brno in 1930, reorchestrating it and, most notoriously, rewriting the ending. Ever since the shortcomings of the original published edition became apparent there have been attempts to return to what Janáček left at his death.
The new critical edition by John Tyrrell supplants the Mackerras-Tyrrell ‘provisional edition’ (1990) with a thorough-going revision based on the score made by Janáček’s copyists under his direct supervision and corrected by him.
In his previous operas Janáček had the opportunity of making minor corrections to the score during rehearsals. Because of his death extensive tidying up of many inconsistencies has been necessary here. All such editorial interventions are shown as such and are described in the Critical Report.
Janáček wrote his own libretto translating from the original Russian into Czech as he went along and left in many untranslated words and phrases. Previous editions replaced these with a revised text in standard Czech. With the possibility today of surtitles (which can provide the sense of what is sung on stage) the new edition prints Janáček’s original text, whose departures from standard Czech constitute an important part of the sound image of the opera.
On 7 March Mark Wigglesworth conducts the new critica edition of From the House of the Dead at the Royal Opera House in London. The staging is by Krzysztof Warlikowski.
The Royal Opera House recently published a 90 minute presentation on the opera as part of the ROH Insights series. Hear from the cast and creative team as they prepare for the Royal Opera’s first production of From the House of the Dead: