Leosh Janachek - On the Way to the House of the Dead (1930)

Not to be confused with the truly awful "House of the Dead," this is an OPERA by the Moravian (Czech) composer Leos Janacheck based on the short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and conducted by the brilliant Pierre Boulez using the Schoenberg choir.

Why do I go into the dark, frozen cells of criminals with the poet of Crime and Punishment? Into the minds of criminals and there I find a spark of God. You will not wipe away the crimes from their brow, but equally you will not extinguish the spark of God. Into what depths it leads - how much truth there is in his work!

See how the old man slides down from the oven, shuffles to the corpse, makes the sign of the cross over it, and with a rusty voice sobs the words: 'A mother gave birth even to him!'

Those are the bright places in the house of the dead.

From the House of the Dead (Z Mrtvého Domu in Czech) is an opera by Leoš Janáček, in three acts. The libretto was translated and adapted by the composer from the novel by Dostoyevsky. It was the composer's last opera, premiered on 12 April 1930 in Brno, two years after his death.

Janáček worked on this opera knowing that it would be his last, and for it he broke away from the habit he had developed of creating characters modeled on his love interest Kamila Stösslová (although the themes of loneliness and isolation can clearly be seen as a response to her indifference to his feelings). There are, in fact, almost no female characters, and the setting, a Siberian prison, offers up a large ensemble cast instead of one or several prominent leads. There is no narrative to the piece as a whole, but individual characters narrate episodes in their lives, and there is a "play-within-a-play" in Act 2.

From the House of the Dead was virtually finished when Janáček died. Two of his students, believing the orchestration was incomplete, "filled out" large portions of the score, as well as adapting the ending to be more optimistic in tone. In addition to the work of Bretislav Bakala, Ota Zitek made changes to the text and sequence of events in the opera.[1] Decades later, a version closer to the composer's intentions superseded that version, and is most often heard today. Some productions, however, still use the ending adapted earlier, as it lessens the bleakness of the story.

The vast orchestra for which this opera is written includes chains (as a percussion instrument), to evoke the sound of the dead.

This is the Deutsche Grammaphone dvd recording, with both 5.1 dolby and normal stereo sound, as well as all the menu extras including five short making of features. The 7.5gb dvd here compressed to 4.3 for burning.

Chéreau rehearsing Skuratov's narration
Chéreau and Boulez on Dostoyevsky's text
Thieu Niang working on the two pantomimes
Boulez and Chéreau on the position of the chorus in Act III
Boulez rehearsing the Mahler Chamber Orchestra

Available at KaraGarga.

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