Welsh National Opera’s production of From the House of the Dead. Photo: Robbie Jack/Corbis via Getty Images

Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Welsh National Opera’s revival brings David Pountney’s 1982 version back to grim and glorious life and restores Janáček’s original musical vision

Janáček’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s partly autobiographical novel, set in a Siberian prison camp, is not an opera for the fainthearted. The fate of those incarcerated in a hell pit is a desperate one, but the crushing brutality of the guards and the violent stories recounted by the convicts carry an even more shockingly cruel edge. Yet such is the searing power of the music that it makes for a riveting, if draining, experience. It is in the tiny gestures of humanity that consolation and hope can be felt, even if only momentarily.

This Welsh National Opera revival of David Pountney’s staging of Janáček’s final opera – first seen 35 years ago – was in itself a landmark occasion but its return also marked the first performance of Janáček scholar John Tyrrell’s new edition of the score, which returns to the composer’s original intentions, removing well-meant but inauthentic additions made by colleagues after his death. WNO music director Tomáš Hanus, a Czech whose childhood was spent just streets away from the composer’s house in Brno, clearly has the music in his blood and brought a nervy, urgent immediacy to its drama. The lashing of the timpani to mirror the hundred lashes to be inflicted on the newly arrived political prisoner Goryanchikov was an early alert to the murderous percussion writing, its frequent metallic clattering depicting not simply the chains and shackles but also the mini-Nibelheim of a smithy even deeper underground. Albeit heralded by the solemn Easter bells of Russian Orthodoxy, the lighter atmosphere of the pantomime plays felt like respite.

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Source: Opera News from the UK Guardian