Yesterday evening at the piazzetta of the Janáček Theatre was marked by a concert to commence the 2019/2020 season of the National Theatre Brno (NdB). Promotion of the event ensured the most important thing for this music evening – hundreds of spectators who filled up the whole place. We should not forget the really wide age range, which is so much needed for future culture, especially at its lower limit (still in strollers).
Although the concert was presented as the opening or announcement of the premieres of the upcoming season, unfortunately only two excerpts from the first upcoming opera – The Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach - were played. In addition, the program was composed of mostly older repertoire and proven pieces or novelties of the last season. As opposed to previous years, when the concert was held temporarily on Zelný Trh Square, or before the reconstruction traditionally on the piazzetta, the ballet numbers have also decreased. The action of the theatre was thus limited to the opera ensemble, supplemented by a moderator-acting duo of drama represented by Hana Tomáš Briešťanská and Roman Blumaier.
The concert opened with the Janáček Opera orchestra with a brisk prelude to Carmen (Georges Bizet), conducted by its chief conductor Marko Ivanović. It was followed by the incoming Janáček Opera choir, foreshadowing perhaps the most famous aria of the opera – Habanera, which was performed by the soloist Václava Krejčí Housková with her sparkling voice.
After the musical introduction, a somewhat lengthy but inevitable evaluation of theatrical achievements and extensive thanks from the director Martin Glaser took place. Musically followed by three examples of the successful opera The Barber of Seville (Gioachino Rossini), which in the coming season will move from the stage of the Mahen Theatre to its home opera stage. The soloists Roman Hoza and Jan Šťáva captured their parts in a charming and energetic way, and Andrea Široká was not left behind with her vibrant coloraturas either.
From the first tones of the opening prelude, there were sound shortcomings that could be anticipated due to the sound amplification. More surprising, however, was the impression of listening to a recorded despite being only at a few meters' distance from the orchestra. The whole evening thus fought with an ideal balance of sound – in the dynamic differences in solo performances and equalisation with the orchestra as well as among choir voices themselves. Nevertheless, the result was quite satisfactory, given the large open-air venue with numerous noises around.
After the solo and choir numbers from Verdi's Don Carlos, which featured soloists Veronika Hajnová-Fialová and again Andrea Široká, it came to the already mentioned upcoming premiere, from which one of the arias was performed by the charming bass of Jiří Sulženko, and the popular Barcarolle was then sung by Daniela Straková-Šedrlová and Václava Krejčí Housková. The following intermezzo from the popular opera Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini was one of the more lengthy pieces that took away some vibes from the concert, but it was enlivened immediately by the ensemble choreography of Smetana's Libuše, which, just like The Barber of Seville, is about to be moved spectacularly to the stage of the Janáček Theatre. The imaginary first half was then concluded with a sample from the newly staged production of The Cunning Little Vixen by Leoš Janáček, namely the aria of Bystrouška sung by Jana Šrejma Kačírková.
However, after an hour-long programme, the first raindrops started to fall, followed by a blackout in the orchestra pit. But this crisis did not derail the master of improvisation Roman Blumaier, who took the floor and reliably took care of the content of the unwanted pause. His comments safely relaxed the rainy atmosphere and, together with speeches by the heads of the individual theatre ensembles, filled the waiting for the uncertain continuation of the evening.
When fighting with the equipment, tenor Ondřej Koplík had the honour of coming to the stage as many as three times, being duly rewarded with applause by the choir from the theatre foyer. In the last few minutes, the equipment and the weather became more reasonable, hence the anticipated aria „Já ubohej ovčáček“ ["Me Poor Shepherd"] from Dvořák's The Devil and Kate could be heard; its absence would no doubt be dreaded by the enthusiastic audience.
The remaining musical numbers then took a relatively fast pace, but unfortunately, due to the unplanned break, samples from the repertoire evergreen – Puccini's Turandot – were skipped. But the mood was lifted again by the choral waltz from Charles Gounod 's opera Faust, followed by two samples from the successful Jenufa, in which soprano Pavla Vykopalová was first presented during the evening, sensitively capturing Janáček's deep melodics. The choral number was followed by the famous aria of Ježibaba [The Witch] from the opera Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák, performed by Václava Krejčí Housková.
Ondřej Koplík, accompanied by the male part of the choir, then "cut out" a lively and mindless song about love from Nedbal's popular operetta Polish Blood, and the evening ended with a short and clear closing choir from the opera The Queen of Spades by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
In the context of the whole evening, in addition to the not so ideal sound, the coordination of the choir and some soloists with the orchestra was sometimes lagging behind, especially in the faster and more rhythmically precise passages that deserve more accuracy and sharpness. The disharmony was mainly due to the far distance of the orchestra from the grandstand "stage". The gestures of the conductor, although clear and straightforward, but not clearly visible from the distance, were not of much help either.
In spite of that, all the performers and the theatre team did a great job, especially in terms of smoothly solving the unexpected situation, which certainly livened up the experience of the soaked but loyal audience. All that remains is to agree with the statement at the end: all is well that ends well, or, the entry into the new season came out well.