MIKE WHEELER experiences
Janácek's 'The excursions of Mr Broucek'
At the start of Opera North and Scottish Opera's new joint production of Janácek's The excursions of Mr Broucek (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 5 November 2009) the current date is projected onto the curtain. It starts to wind backwards, stopping in August 1968, shortly before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Neither the production nor the programme labour the point, but it does give an additional resonance to the fifteenth-century Hussite rebellion in Act 2.
Based on satirical novels by the late nineteenth-century Czech writer Svatopluk Cech, Janácek's only overtly comic opera sees its hapless anti-hero adrift in a succession of strange environments, in which the familiar characters from his local pub (where each act begins) take on new but still recognisable identities.
John Graham Hall's tall, lanky Broucek, forever hugging his briefcase for security, blunders around as a perpetual fish out of water, committing one social gaffe after another. In Act 1 he finds himself on the Moon, confronted by a hippy-dippy artistic community presided over by Donald Maxwell's star turn as dotty guru Shining Radiance. Moving back in time for the main part of Act 2, the dramatic tone darkens as pretentious artistic disputes are replaced by pressing political and religious issues (some more pressing than others seen from a later age).
The two lovers, artist Mazal (Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts) and cathedral sacristan's flirtatious daughter Málinka (Anne Sophie Dupreis), become spaced-out Moon poet Starry Sky-Blue and the positively predatory Ethera in Act 1, while in Act 2 he is freedom-fighter Petrik and she his feisty girlfriend Kunka. His ringing tenor and her almost slavonically vibrant mezzo are heard to excellent effect in each of their respective roles. Jonathan Best's Sacristan turns into the tedious Lunabor, whose repeated attempts to lecture Broucek on Moon etiquette are a delight.
Director John Fulljames creates an amiably weird Moon setting inhabited by some very sixties-ish groupies, and a vivid sense of a besieged community in Act 2. Conductor Martin André secures playing from the orchestra that is both warm and incisive. He and Fulljames together have also come up with a deft, witty new English translation. It adds enormously to the enjoyment of this entertainingly quirky opera.
Copyright © 28 November 2009