[Met Performance] CID:353170
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
From the House of the Dead {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/12/2009., Sirius and XM Broadcast live
Streamed at metopera.org

(Debuts: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Patrice Chéreau, Thierry Thieû Niang, Caroline de Vivaise, Bertrand Couderc, Eric Stoklossa, Stefan Margita, Vladimir Chmelo, Scott Scully, Ales Jenis, Marian Pavlovic, Peter Hoare, Andreas Conrad

Metropolitan Opera House
November 12, 2009 Broadcast/Streamed

Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Filka Morozov/Kuzmich...Stefan Margita [Debut]
Skuratov................Kurt Streit
Shapkin.................Peter Hoare [Debut]
Shishkov................Peter Mattei
Gorianchikov............Willard White
Alyeya..................Eric Stoklossa [Debut]
Tall Prisoner...........Peter Straka
Short Prisoner..........Vladimir Chmelo [Debut]
Prison Commandant.......Vladimir Ognovenko
Old Prisoner............Heinz Zednik
Chekunov................Jeffrey Wells
Drunken Prisoner........Adam Klein
Blacksmith..............Richard Bernstein
Priest..................John Cheek
Young Prisoner..........Scott Scully [Debut]
Prostitute..............Kelly Cae Hogan
Prisoner/Don Juan.......Ales Jenis [Debut]
Prisoner/Kedril.........Marian Pavlovic [Debut]
Cherevin................Andreas Conrad [Debut]
Actors: Wayne Brusseau, Jeff Burchfield, Bob Diamond,
   Marty Keiser, Peter John Lester, Michael Lewis,
   Collin McGee, Deric McNish, Michael Melkovic,
   Jon Morris, Vernon Morris, Björn Pederson,
   Jason Quarles, Peter Richards, Isaac Scranton,
   Damiyr Shuford, Jason Sofge, Carlton Tanis,
   Erwin E.A. Thomas, Steve Trzaska

Javier Diaz: Percussionist

Conductor...............Esa-Pekka Salonen [Debut]

Production..............Patrice Chéreau [Debut]
Associate Director......Thierry Thieû Niang [Debut]
Set Designer............Richard Peduzzi
Costume Designer........Caroline de Vivaise [Debut]
Lighting Designer.......Bertrand Couderc [Debut]

From the House of the Dead received seven performances this season

The production a gift of The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation

Additional funding by Robert L. Turner and American Express Company

A production of the Metropolitan Opera and Wiener Festwochen, in co-production with Holland Festival, Amsterdam;Festival d'Aix-en-Provence; and Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Broadcast live on Sirius and XM Metropolitan Opera Radio
Streamed at metopera.org

Production photos of From the House of the Dead by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Review of Fred Cohn in OPERA NEWS

The houselights didn't dim before the start of the Met's first "From the House of the Dead," nor did the conductor make a stately ascent to the podium. Instead, the lights shut off abruptly; in the same moment, the curtain flew up to reveal the stark blue-gray walls of Richard Peduzzi's set, while Esa-Pekka Salonen, previously hidden, gave the downbeat on the slashing [beginning] measures of the opera. We were thrust in an instant from the familiar comfort of the auditorium into the harsh world of Janácek's work and held there compellingly, relentlessly - for three intermission-less acts.

It's a world quite unlike that of any other opera. "From the House of the Dead" has no plot to speak of. Conventional narrative development would suggest that its characters, trapped in a Siberian prison, in fact had somewhere to go. Even the music seems imprisoned: instead of an ongoing musical development, Janácek depicts the prisoners' plight in jagged shards of music. Folk rhythms start to churn; then stop abruptly, as if exhausted.

Nonetheless, the life force courses through the work. For all the hopelessness of their situation, these prisoners are full of life; their passions and yearnings are all too human. Significantly, the opera's centerpiece is a comic sequence - a theatrical performance, staged by the inmates for the townspeople, by turns messy, silly, ribald and touching. The prisoners are not so defeated that they can't seek solace, even redemption, in art.

Patrice Chereau's staging, which opened on November 12, captured the work's contradictory strains of vitality and despair. It was the Met debut of a director probably best known to American opera fans from the videos of his 1970s Bayreuth "Ring," which took the gods into Wagner's own time. Here, too, he took some liberties with the libretto. The setting was updated about a hundred years from the original; the costuming seemed to place it somewhere in the middle of the last century; the trouser role of Alyeya, written for a female voice, was assigned here to a tenor. No scene change in the last act took us from the prison hospital to the yard; the wounded eagle that, in the end, flies from the prison, was here hidden away by one of the prisoners, leaving his mates to celebrate a false victory. But the production vividly conveyed a spirit that seemed palpably Janácek's own.

The staging had already been seen at three festivals - the Wiener Festwochen, Aix-en-Provence and the Holland Festival. The Met version, too, seemed less like the product of a repertory theater than of a festival, where the performers and creative team are given the time and resources to work in pursuit of a unified vision. Peduzzi's simple, stunning set - abetted by Bertrand Couderc's chilly, evocative lighting - vividly conveyed the dank prison environment while displaying a spare elegance that eluded him in his work for 'Tosca" earlier in the season. The image, at the [beginning] of Act II, of the prisoners moving forward through the morning mist was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on an opera stage.

I mean in no way to diminish Salonen's musical accomplishment (in his own Met debut) by suggesting that his great achievement was theatrical. He drew haunted textures from the great orchestra that seemed to belong to this opera and none other. But even more impressive was his pacing of the work, so masterly as to be invisible: the opera moved forward with a kind of inevitability that made it seem as if the drama were simply unfolding, unbidden, before us.

"From the House of the Dead" is a true ensemble opera, observing no distinction between major and minor roles. Characters come forward to tell their sad stories, then are submerged back into the crowd. The one character who might be considered to have a star role doesn't make his vocal entrance until well into the last act, scarcely a half hour before the final curtain. This is Shishkov, a tormented soul in prison for killing the woman he loved. His sad narrative is the opera's most sustained set piece, and it provided Peter Mattei with a tour de force. He brought the grace of a true Mozartean to his singing, without for a second prettifying the role: violence and tenderness hung in tenuous balance. Salonen was an exemplary collaborator here, shaping the music to suggest a deep well of lyricism running beneath its rough surface.

The rest of the cast was equally fine. The aristocratic Gorianchikov is the only character that anything happens to - he is thrown into the prison at the beginning of Act I, then pardoned and released moments before the final curtain. Still, the character doesn't get much to sing, which made it all the more fitting that he was embodied by Willard White, whose noble bearing told us much that we needed to know. Despite the briefness of the role, White made his farewell to his friend, the adolescent Alyeya (Eric Stoklossa), into an emotion-drenched moment. Stoklossa, for his part, more than justified the decision of casting Alyeya as a tenor: he was forthright in his manner and so clear and fresh in his vocalism that the sound seemed to emerge from an adolescent throat.

"From the House of the Dead" calls for a contrasting pair of character tenors. The suggestion of a tear in Kurt Streit's voice gave the mad Skuratov an edge of Pagliaccio-like pathos. Stefan Margita's tenor had more traces of grit in its tone, befitting the villainous Filka. One measure of the richness of the casting came in the presence of Heinz Zednik, a treasured Met Mime in the 1980s (and Chéreau's Bayreuth Loge in the '70s), in the tiny role of the Old Prisoner. The male choristers were full participants in the drama, producing sounds that were at once rugged and polished.

At the end, after a roaring ovation greeted the cast and the creative team, came the last and most inevitable of the evening's coups de theatre: the house lights came up, bringing us back to quotidian reality. We were back in the spot where we'd started, 100 minutes earlier. But we had most definitely been taken on an enthralling journey.

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