Janáček’s House of the Dead in Savonlinna

Reading time: 2 min. Leoš Janácek

From the House of the Dead, Savonlinna Opera Festival, Photo: Hannu LuostarinenFrom the House of the Dead is constructed like a collage, it does not proceed through linear storytelling, but is made up of cinematic juxtapositions of ideas and scenes. (David Pountney)

Leoš Janáček based his final opera From the House of the Dead on his own libretto after Dostojevsky’s Memoirs from the House of the Dead, and he created the work in 1927/28 in anticipation of the industrial-scale mass murder of human beings in concentration camps.

David Pountney’s successful and time-tested production of the opera will be premièred on 23 July at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in a new staging by Caroline Gleggs, Tomáš Hanus conducts the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra.

The production stars Ville Rusanen, Hanna Rantala, Mika Pohjonen, Claudio Otelli, Nicholas Söderlund and others.

In a way Leoš Janáček’s operas work like really good films. They just tell the story, and they’re very immediate and humane pieces. Janáček is really the most important 20th century opera composer. (David Pountney)

We interviewed David Pountney for our MusikSalon. Watch the interview here:

For three months Václav Sedláček and Jaroslav Kulhánek came each day to Janáček’s house and worked with him, more or less acting as amanuenses. This enabled the composer to clarify problematic passages and dictate new ideas, so their copies often go further than what is in the final autograph score. Janáček checked the first two acts, adding doublings and minor revisions and, in the case of Act 1, even provided metronome marks (he carefully planned these first in pencil and then inked them in). Janáček took Kulhánek’s score of Act 3 with him on holiday in August 1928, but died before revising this act in the same way.

For our MusikSalon theJanáček specialist John Tyrrell has written about the critical-practical version by Sir Charles Mackerras and John Tyrrell, which will be performed in Savonlinna.

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