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Marek Olbrzymek/National Theatre Brno

National Theatre Brno

Destiny (Osud)

Life always offers you a second chance

Operas | Janáček

A young woman in love with a composer is forced by her mother to take a rich suitor. When the two lovers are reunited years later, happiness is theirs for the taking, but a tragedy happens that changes everything.

 

Robert Carsen’s premiere of Destiny opened the 2020 edition of the Janáček Brno Festival (International Opera Award winner 2019). It comprises some of Janáček’s most magnificent music, which sways from the peaks of romantic rapture to the depths of desperation and back again.

Streamed live from Brno on 27 November 2021.

 

Sung in Czech. The live performance will be subtitled in English. French, German and Czech subtitles will be available soon afterwards with the option of auto-translation into over 100 other languages.

Available from
27.11.2021 at 19h00 CET

Available until
28.05.2022 at 12h00 CET

Old Živný, a composerPhilip Sheffield
Young Živný, a composerEnrico Casari
Míla VálkováAlžběta Poláčková
Míla's motherNatascha Petrinsky
Dr. SudaPeter Račko
Lhotský, painterJan Šťáva
KonečnýLukáš Bařák
Miss Stuhlá, a teacherDaniela Straková-Šedrlová
Doubek (child)Petr Hrůša
Poet / StudentPavel Valenta
1st Lady / Miss PacovskáAndrea Široká
2nd Lady / Major’s wifeTereza Kyzlinková
Old Slovak WomanJana Plachetková
Councillor’s wifeJana Hrochová
Young WidowHana Kopřivová
EngineerPavel Valenta
Verva, studentLukáš Bařák
Součková, studentMarta Reichelová
Kosinská, studentJarmila Balážová
DoubekVít Nosek
WaiterMartin Novotný
HrázdaOndřej Koplík


MusicLeoš Janáček
TextLeoš Janáček, Fedora Bartošová
ConductorMarko Ivanović
DirectorRobert Carsen
Set DesignerRadu Boruzescu
Costume DesignerAnnemarie Woods
Lighting DesignerRobert Carsen, Peter van Praet
ChoreographerLorena Randi
Chorus MasterPavel Koňárek
DramaturgIan Burton, Patricie Částková

Seventeen years ago the composer Živný had an affair with Míla. Míla’s mother disapproved of Živný and separated the lovers by arranging for her daughter to marry a richer man. The plan came to nothing because Míla was already pregnant with Živný’s child, but Živný believed that Míla left him for a richer man. He has poured out his bitter feelings into the composition of an opera…

Act I – Fifteen years ago

Živný and Míla meet again in the same spa. They are surrounded by guests from all walks of life, among them three men who are attracted to Míla: Dr. Suda, Lhotský and Konečný. Živný comes to realise that he has accused Míla unfairly of leaving him and begs for forgiveness, offering to take her and their child back. Míla’s mother is horrified to learn that her daughter has returned to the composer.

Act II – Eleven years ago

Míla and Živný are now married and living with their little son Doubek. Živný has been unable to finish his opera, but the bitter dramatization of the past has driven a wedge between husband and wife. At the piano Živný repeatedly plays and sings the ‘Fate’ motif which Míla’s deranged mother is heard repeating from her room. Míla begs her husband to abandon the work after little Doubek tells her that she does not know what love is. When Mila’s mother attacks Živný, accusing him of trying to steal her money and jewellery, Míla tries to restrain her. To Živný’s horror, both mother and daughter fall to their death.

Act III – The present, eleven years later

In the music conservatory where Živný teaches, students are sight-reading the storm scene from their professor’s strange unfinished opera, due to receive its premiere that night. Two students, Verva and Hrázda, sing solo scenes from the work. Verva believes that Lenský, the composer in the opera, must be Živný himself. To the embarrassment of the real Doubek, now also a student at the conservatory, Verva sings the scene where Doubek tells his mother that she does not know what love is.

As the students continue to mock Živný’s work, the composer appears. He describes Lenský as a lonely composer whose music did not meet with success until he fell in love with Míla. But it was too late: their love was doomed to fail and die.

The stormy emotion of reliving events from his own life overwhelms Živný. He collapses when recounting Míla’s death and imagines the sound of his dying wife’s voice. Verva suggests that this could be a possible ending to the opera, but Živný rejects the idea, insisting that the fate of the final scene must remain in God’s hands.

Robert Carsen

 

Janáček’s Destiny

Janáček’s fourth opera, entitled Fate (or Destiny), came into existence during a difficult time for the composer. In February 1903 his beloved daughter, Olga, died and then a month later he completed his opera Jenůfa, which had been almost ten years in the making, and the National Theatre in Prague promptly declined to stage it. However, this desperate period in his life drove the composer to work even more intensively. After completing Jenůfa he immediately began to search for a subject for a new opera. He acquired a copy of Merhaut’s novel The Angelic Sonata, but soon abandoned this subject matter. A key moment for the opera Fate was an encounter during a summer stay at the Luhačovice spa between the mentally exhausted forty-nine-year-old director of the Organ School, Leoš Janáček, and the twenty-eight-year-old Kamila Urválková, wife of a forestry administrator in Zaháji and long-standing love of the composer and conductor Ludvík Čelanský. Kamila told Janáček of her love affair with Čelanský; not only had it ended badly, but Čelanský had revealed his disillusionment in the opera Kamila, where the main female protagonist is portrayed as fickle and immature. Urválková aroused passionate feelings in Janáček and he decided to create an ‘entirely new, modern opera’ in which Kamila would be exonerated.

Osud Onegin

After returning from Luhačovice he turned his mind to the plot and looked for a suitable librettist who would be able to properly flesh out his ideas. He finally asked Fedora Bartošová to work on the text. She was a young teacher and friend of the late Olga, who was staying with the Janáček family in the same house. They began to work together on the opera libretto in November 1903. The approach to this new work was influenced by visits to two productions at the Prague National Theatre; in May 1903 Janáček saw Gustave Charpentier’s Louise for the first time and greatly admired it from then on, and in November he revisited one of his favourites, Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  After that he wrote to Bartošová: ‘…I have in mind a form of verse like that which Pushkin uses in Onegin.’  Louise also inspired him in the depiction of the atmosphere of everyday life in the streets of Luhačovice. Janáček was very pleased with young Bartošová’s work. She wrote several versions of the libretto for him, even in ‘Onegin verse’, as the composer had wanted. Janáček included real people in the story in coded form: Míla Válková =  Kamila Urválková, the composer Lenský = Čelanský etc. Janáček worked on the score gradually and the first version was apparently completed sometime in the first half of 1905. A year later he entrusted what was still called Blind Fate to the Brno National Theatre. However, he had three conditions: 1. original sets, 2. reimbursement of expenses and 3. a full orchestra in accordance with the score. At first glance it may appear that these conditions are modest, but the third was unfortunately almost impossible to fulfil. Janáček therefore wrote out the smallest possible number of instruments in every volume of the score: 2 flutes, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 French horns, 3 trombones, 4 first violins, 3 second violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos and 3 double basses (however, the correct number of instruments to perform the score is of course much greater). It is clear from this how dismal the situation in the Brno theatre orchestra was – after all, it happened more than once that a performance of Jenůfa was given by less than 20 musicians. Nevertheless, it appeared that Fate would soon be performed in Brno. In early 1907 the director of the theatre, Antoš Frýda, approached the painter Zdeňka Vorlová-Vlčková about working on the stage design. There are also copies of the vocal voices which were acquired by the Brno theatre, dating from December 1906. In March 1907 Karel Komarov began to prepare the stage direction, considering the overall conception and the most suitable visual approach for the narrow auditorium of the theatre on Veveří street.

From Brno to nowhere

However, the situation became complicated when the editor Artuš Rektorys recommended to Janáček in a letter, apparently from 14 May 1907, that he take his work to the newly opened City Theatre in Vinohrady. And then on 17 May Rektorys informed Janáček that after a discussion with the conductor Ludvík Čelanský (who naturally had no idea about his part in the opera) he recommended immediately entrusting Fate to the City Theatre in Prague. Janáček therefore sent the score to František Šubert, the opera director at the Vinohrady theatre, on 29 May, and three months later he accepted it for staging. It wasn’t difficult for Janáček to withdraw Fate from Brno, since the actual preparations were still dragging on, the stage director Komarov was drawing attention to the problematic nature of the libretto and on top of that the Brno National Theatre had declined to put on the revised version of Jenůfa, which annoyed Janáček. However, even in Prague they were troubled by the textual side of the opera. Rektorys recommended to Janáček that František Skácelík should look over the libretto and edit it, and he also began to work on it. In November of the same year Janáček completed the general revision of the piece and expected it to be performed. However, this was not to happen. Excuses started to come from the City Theatre in Vinohrady and the date of Fate’s performance was continually pushed back. The situation escalated to such an extent that Janáček even sued the theatre. Finally in 1913 the composer reached an agreement with the theatre’s management that he would be reimbursed expenses of 250 crowns with the promise that Fate would be performed in the future. However, this did not happen. Nor was Fate to appear on any other stage during the composer’s life.

Afterlife

Janáček later had discussions with František Serafinský Procházka and also with Max Brod about revising the libretto, but no further changes were actually made to the work. Fate is thus the only opera which was not performed in the composer’s lifetime (that is, of course, if we don’t count the composer’s last opera, From the House of the Dead). It is interesting that later on Janáček did not push to have it performed, unlike, for example, his debut work Šarka. He was obviously aware of the problematic libretto and the generally poor understanding of the story. The opera was not performed until 1934 on Czechoslovak Radio by the conductor Břetislav Bakala. Fate did not reach the stage until 1958 in Brno and Stuttgart, albeit in a dramaturgically revised version by Václav Nosek. Today Fate routinely features in the repertoire of theatres across the world. To a certain extent the controversial libretto is compensated for by the unquestionable excellence of the opera’s music, in which the composer was searching for new possibilities for his compositional technique, the basic outlines of which he had come up with during the composition of Jenůfa. It already features polymetric layers, the use of instruments at the limits of their range and experimentation with methods of playing the strings as well as the striking employment of the triple metre and the ‘cathartic waltz’ and the inclusion of interesting instruments such as the organ, piano and viola d´amore in the orchestral score. Fate is thus without a doubt one of the most remarkable and most progressive works of the early 20th century. 

Jiří Zahrádka