I haven’t been to the theatre for ages and then I ended up going on consecutive nights; once to see this “Little Great” at Opera North and then down to Stratford, which I will report on next week.
I don’t know very much about Janacek and I knew nothing about this short opera but a friend asked if I was interested in going so I did.
The opera is in 3 acts and engaged my attention for the whole 1 hour 25 minutes it lasted; it is part of Opera North’s “Little Greats” season, with 2 short operas each evening.
The plot can be summarised as; the composer Zivny falls in love with Mila, Mila’s mother disapproves and separates them but Mila has a baby. Mila and Zivny meet again and marry, they are poor and looking after their son and Mila’s mother who has gone mad. the mad mother falls and drags Mila over the balcony with her to their deaths. Zivny greaves and can’t finish the opera he has written. He dies, as students are rehearsing for the premier of his opera, saying the last act is “in God’s hands”.
I thought the staging was very clever, using minimal scenery to create the schoolroom, a cafe, a poor lodging house and back to the schoolroom. The small changes created the right feel for the drama at each stage and, along with the music, move the story from serious to lighthearted and back again.
The costumes also worked well. They created a sense of a different era and country without being too specific or getting in the way of the story.
I don’t have enough experience of opera to proffer an expert opinion but I did think the principles sang their parts well and for the most part acted well. My one disappointment was the relationship between Zivny and Mila. I felt that the love was all one way – Mila to Zivny – and that Zivny cared more about his music. I didn’t feel a strong connection between the two of them. One of my friends agreed although my more opera experienced friend felt we were wrong and that Zivny was a “tortured soul”. For me there was just something lacking in the way the Director had created the interaction between the two. There was no sense of a passionate, unbreakable bond in the relationship.
I also think singing in English disrupted the flow of the music a bit. There were screens set up to show what was being sung so I think keeping the opera in its original language and maintaining the rhythms of that language with its music would have been preferable. We could have read the translation on the screens.
Overall though I enjoyed exploring some new music and I wish I’d gone earlier in the season as I might have ventured to one or two more of the “Little Greats”.