Leoš Janáček's "From the House of the Dead"

"There is a divine spark in every being": This sentence wrote Leoš Janáček on the first page of the partitur of his last opera, From the House of the Dead, practically as a guiding principle. The Czech composer took Fyodor Dostoevsky's partially autobiographical novel, The House of the Dead, as the template for his piece on the routine everyday and state of mind of prisoners, murderers and criminals. Janáček even used the actual wording in places. Dostoevsky processed his four-year detention in a labour camp in the novel. His works have long had a fascinating appeal for Frank Castorf, who, with the new production, now takes on the role of director for the first time at the Bayerische Staatsoper. He's been working on the bleak opera, which constantly shimmers between resignation and hope, together with conductor Simone Young. Following Palestrina in 2009, it is Young's fourth new production as conductor at the Bayerische Staatsoper.


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"Tragic, tragicomic, political"

After its first Munich performance in German in 1976, From the House of the Dead returns to the Bayerische Staatsoper for the first time in its original language. The production draws here on John Tyrell's recently staged critical new edition, which returns the piece to Leoš Janáček's original version with its occasionally surprising chamber music orchestration. "It is a very bleak piece. Tragic, tragicomic, political," says conductor Simone Young. "There is no real storyline. The main characters recount their experiences. In this respect it is totally different from his other operas, whose theme focuses more on love. I am so happy we can work with the latest scientific edition of the piece here."

Overlapping of historical layers, typical for Castorf, is  also a feature of his production of From the House of the Dead at the Bayerische Staatsoper, as was also the case with the Bayreuth Ring in a stage set by Aleksandar Denić. Dostoevsky's experiences from his own time in a Tsarist prison camp in the 19th century are consequently combined with the reality of the camps of the 20th century into a "dance of death-like" nightmare, in which the handful of skewed comic moments present small rays of hope for the prisoners.