It’s the least performed of Janácek’s main operas and the specialists will tell you exactly why. Part one, which deals with Broucek’s drunken dream and his visit to the moon, is radically different in mood from the second part, which takes him, after yet another binge, to 15th-century Prague and the Hussite rebellion. The satirical play-off between Broucek and effete lunar intellectuals, a dig at the Prague cultural mafia who shunned Janácek, fits uneasily with an altogether more serious dreamscape where nascent Czech nationalism tends to upstage the title role.
Even approaching the opera as a largely unrelated double bill doesn’t quite get it off the hook, but Jean-Marie Blanchard is still to be commended for programming the first-ever performance in Switzerland. There is so much luscious orchestration to admire and so many pointers to Janácek’s late-period masterpieces.
Yannis Kokkos – staging, sets and costumes – dresses both parts in superbly atmospheric sets, all sumptuously lit by Patrice Trottier and enhanced by Eric Duranteau’s sophisticated video work. Kafkaesque gloom is suggested by silhouetted buildings, the lunar crowd includes bespectacled aesthetes waving cigarette holders, and medieval Prague is seen through a topsy-turvy Chagall prism of a teetering steeple and a gorgeous multicoloured sun.
Stylistically it’s a triumph, but it is an eye-bath that could do with a burst of earthier stage directions to get the comic juices flowing. The tepid audience response suggested as much even if some of this was owing to a failure to connect with central European humour.
No fault of Kim Begley’s excellent Broucek, Mr Average Czech of the time, the proud mortgage-free homeowner whose passions are beer, sausages and cigars. Gordon Gietz is a valiant Mazal, and Eva Jenis’s stridently edgy soprano as his sweetheart Málinka is at least in character with the local style.
Kirill Karabits conducts with loving attention to detail but the Suisse Romande orchestra, like the chorus, sometimes sounds out of its depth. The other drawback with a rarity such as Broucek is that we get to know it too well through recordings of superior homegrown formations and can’t help pining for the burnished strings of the Czech Philharmonic.
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