Opera in three acts

Composer Leoš Janáček · Libretto by composer after „Notes from the House of the Dead“ by Fjodor M. Dostojewski
In Czech with English and German surtitles

Tuesday, 05. June 2018
07:00 pm – 08:35 pm

60 Minuten Nachspielzeit nach Vorstellungsende

Nach der Vorstellung wird das Haus noch eine Stunde geöffnet sein.
So haben Sie Gelegenheit, noch vor Ort im Eingangsbereich, unter dem Portal oder auf den Stufen des Nationaltheaters den Abend ausklingen zu lassen und mit anderen Gästen im persönlichen Gespräch das Gesehene zu diskutieren. An zwei Bars im Eingangsbereich können Sie bis 45 Minuten nach Vorstellungsende Getränke sowie kleine Snacks erwerben.

Variante für schlechtes Wetter: Freunde-Foyer, Eingang im Bereich Parkett links.

Duration est. 1 hours 35 minutes

Introductory Event: 06:00 PM · Young Audience

Prices L , € 163 /142 /117 /91 /64 /39 /15 /11

Premiere at 21. May 2018

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Musikalische Leitung
Simone Young
Frank Castorf
Aleksandar Denić
Adriana Braga Peretzki
Rainer Casper
Andreas Deinert, Jens Crull
Miron Hakenbeck
Sören Eckhoff

Aleksandr Petrovič Gorjančikov
Peter Rose
Aljeja, ein junger Tartar
Evgeniya Sotnikova
Luka (Filka Morozov, im Gefängnis unter dem Namen Luka Kuzmič)
Aleš Briscein
Charles Workman
Bo Skovhus
Großer Sträfling / Sträfling mit dem Adler
Manuel Günther
Kleiner Sträfling / Verbitterter Sträfling
Tim Kuypers
Christian Rieger
Der alte Sträfling
Ulrich Reß
Johannes Kammler
Betrunkener Sträfling
Galeano Salas
Koch (Sträfling)
Boris Prýgl
Schmied (Sträfling)
Alexander Milev
Peter Lobert
Niamh O’Sullivan
Don Juan (Brahmane)
Callum Thorpe
Kedril / Schauspieler / Junger Sträfling
Matthew Grills
Šapkin / Fröhlicher Sträfling
Kevin Conners
Čerevin / Stimme aus der kirgisischen Steppe
Dean Power
Long Long
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„The House of the Dead“ – the moniker accorded to the Siberian labour camp by those held within it: thieves, killers, political prisoners. This is a place in which captives are incessantly monitored and punished. With its very own rules involving power and submission; its hierarchies and bullying by those in authority; this is a place far from civilisation, which acts both as its blind spot and its mirror. Based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The House of the Dead, in which the author processes his own four-year incarceration, Leoš Janáček created a singular work of musical theatre. This is an opera without heroes; without the standard plot revolving around conflict and its subsequent resolution. Against a backdrop of the tedium and gruelling routine of camp life, Janáček allows individual prisoners and their stories to emerge briefly from the multitude. He draws out personal journeys marked by humiliation and abuse. Janáček’s unique musical idiom feels like eavesdropping and provides a raw, gestural expression for the brutality faced in the camp, but also for the moments of shared hope, compassion and solidarity.


First Act

A penal camp in Siberia. A day like every other. Two prisoners cross each other, exchange insults and throw punches. The news spreads quickly here; a nobleman will begin his sentence today.

The incomer, Alexandr Petrovič Gorjančikov, feels the brutality of the camp commander upon his arrival. Upon replying to the provocation that he is no vagrant but a political prisoner, he is ordered to receive one hundred lashes.

A conflict about an injured eagle that lives amongst the prisoner breaks out. Will it die in the camp, or will it recover and be able to fly again? Can an animal adapt to life in captivity like a human? This wild and unruly bird allows the inmates to dream of freedom, even if only for a moment. Then, they are forced back to work by the guards.

The one named Skuratov, whom they all regard as a fool, sings and dances and speaks about his life in Moscow. Although his fragmented memories seem to make no sense, they do provide some light relief. Only the aggressive Luka is disgusted by Skuratov’s behaviour. Luka tells of how he once in a prison stood up to the arbitrariness of a major who regarded himself as omnipotent and how he stabbed him in the stomach with a knife. As Luka explains how the resulting punishment almost left him for dead, Gorjančikov is brought back from his lashing.


Second Act

A few months later. The prisoners are working outdoors. Gorjančikov befriends the young Tatar Aljeja and promises to teach him to read and write. The church bells ring in a holiday, allowing the inmates to leave their work and assemble for a feast.

Skuratov tells of how love led him to the camp. As a simple soldier, he met a certain Lujza. She spoke often of marriage, but their liaisons soon came to an end. An older and richer relative wanted to take Lujza for his wife, and she did not want to refuse the opportunity of materialistic happiness. Skuratov tried in vain to forget his lover. Uninvited, he visited the bridal couple and shot Lujza’s groom in the head.

After dinner, the prisoners stage some plays. Two comedy pieces full of erotic innuendos are performed: An opera about Kedril, Don Juan’s servant, who delivers various women to his master and serves him his food. When the devils take his master, Kedril is able to enjoy the women and the food for himself. Then follows the pantomime The Miller's Beautiful Wife, in which a woman receives numerous men at once and must hide them from her man as he unexpectedly returns home from work early.

After the performances, Aljeja und Gorjančikov drink tea together. Unintentionally, their intimate get-together provokes the jealousy of some of the other prisoners who are looking for trouble. Indignantly they reproach them for seeming privileged.  A particularly embittered prisoner attacks Gorjančikov and Aljeja, injuring Aljeja badly.


Third Act

Night in the camp hospital. Aljeja is recovering from his injuries. Running a fever, he talks of the miracles of Jesus, which he was able to read about in the bible thanks to Gorjančikov’s teaching. Other inmates moan with pain. An old believer prays. Luka is seriously ill and close to death.

Šapkin remembers the great pain that was inflicted upon him. After being arrested for burglary, a policeman almost ripped off his ear during questioning.

Šiškov tells another how he has landed in prison. A certain Filka Morozov ruined his life. This Filka destroyed the reputation of a merchant’s daughter in his village, whereby he announced to everyone that he had slept with her on many occasions. Leaving the dishonoured Akulina with no hope of a marriage befitting her standing, she was beaten by her family and then married to the destitute Šiškov. On their wedding night, it transpired that she was indeed still a virgin. Šiškov wanted to avenge Akulina’s defamation by Filka but, upon reflection, how could he have noticed that the bride was a virgin when he was so drunk at the wedding? As Filka rejoined the army and bade Akulina farewell, Akulina could not hide her affection for him. Šiškov felt betrayed. The next day, he went into the woods with his wife and slit her throat.

While Šiškov tells the story of Akulina’s brutal end, Luka dies. Šiškov recognises his rival Filka as the dead Luka. Without knowing it, they lived next to each other in the camp. He spits in the corpse’s face and the old believer blesses the deceased. The guard pulls him away. Gorjančikov is called to appeal.

The prison governor begs Gorjančikov for forgiveness for the baseless beating on the day of his arrival, but hidden behind the apparently friendly words are new insults. The governor grudgingly notifies Gorjančikov that he has been pardoned and will be released. The chains are removed from the prisoner. He bids Aljeja farewell and steps out into his new life. The others inmates release the eagle. Will it fly? Aljeja stays back, alone. The guard forces the prisoners back to work, just like every other day.


Translated from German by James McCallum


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Simone Young studierte in ihrer Heimatstadt Sydney Klavier und Komposition. Nach Stationen als Chefdirigentin des Bergen Philharmonic Orchestras und als Künstlerische Leiterin sowie Chefdirigentin an der Australian Opera in Sydney und Melbourne war sie von 2005 bis 2015 Intendantin der Staatsoper Hamburg und Generalmusikdirektorin des Philharmonischen Staatsorchesters Hamburg. Darüber hinaus gastierte sie an zahlreichen Opernhäusern, darunter die Wiener Staatsoper, die Opéra national de Paris, das Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, die Metropolitan Opera in New York und die Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. Neben ihrer umfangreichen Operntätigkeit dirigierte sie u.a. die Berliner, Wiener und Münchner Philharmoniker sowie das Klangforum Wien. (Stand: 2018)

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