From the House of the Dead: critical new edition in Cardiff

Reading time: 2 min. Leoš Janáček

Leoš Janáček did not live to see his final opera Z mrtvého domu [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. All non-standard words or phrases (whether Russian, Ukrainian, Moravian dialect, etc.) are marked with asterisks and are explained, usually with reference to Dostoevsky’s original Russian, in an extensive appendix printed at the back of the score.

Renowned Janáček-director David Pountney on staging Leoš Janáček:



On 8 October Tomáš Hanus conducts the first performance of the critical new edition of From the House of the Dead at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. The staging is by David Pountney.

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