Opera The Monument: a powerful drama without much emotion

8 February 2020, 18:00
Opera The Monument: a powerful drama without much emotion

Director, librettist and stage designer David Radok and composer, but also chief conductor of the opera ensemble Marko Ivanović created the authorial work for the opera ensemble of the National Theatre Brno. The opera The Monument, which was premiered yesterday, tells the story of sculptor Otakar Švec (1892–1955), whose design in 1955 was a portent of Stalin's monument at Letná. The title roles in the Janáček Theatre were performed by: Stanislav Sem (Sculptor), Markéta Cukrová (Wife), Roman Hoza (Colleague) and Ondřej Koplík (Minister of Culture). The solo parts were complemented by the Opera Choir, the Czech Academic Choir and the Brno Children's Choir. The Janáček Opera Orchestra was directed by the author of the music Marko Ivanović.

The theme of the opera is an internal ethical dialogue and the tragic fate of a sculptor and artist. Švec was compulsorily participating in the design contest for the memorial of Josif Stalin and won it unintentionally. He committed suicide shortly before the monument was unveiled. The opera chronologically depicts events from the announcement of the 1949 megalomaniac competition until the tearing down of the monument in 1962; everything is arranged in one act and eleven scenes.

monument_01_foto_Marek Olbrzymek

David Radok conceives the historical substance rather realistically and his grasp is more traditional, devoid of experiments with the form of narration or time manipulation. The librettist aims to carefully depict the moods and atmosphere of the 1950s and more broadly of any totalitarian society. The libretto does not contain a single personal name and the direction aims towards a super-realistic depiction. In addition to certain realism, Radok's direction contains even surrealistic moments, evoked by everyday reality brought ad absurdum. In the close neighbourhood of both great and small histories, very oppressive in The Monument in every way, the ever-repeated banalities are unduly accentuated. And nowadays may even sound superficial. The eye of an imaginary camera covers all the events on the stage as equal, and so the audience was equally exposed to the jingle of dishes alongside fatal political repression. Positively unusual is the length of the opera, which consists of only eighty minutes divided into eleven scenes. However, it would be wrong to assume a swift progress in this case. Certain rigidity of the action, images and scene was evident all the time. The backdrops (separating the space between "inside" and "outside") were sophisticated and often took place in complete silence. An empty scene free of any movement or presence of characters was no exception. Although the story depicted one of the most shattering times in the history of the country and an unmistakable inner drama of the artist, the stage remained devoid of remarkable emotions. The director thus avoided inappropriate pathos in his depiction of historical facts (death of the sculptor), and at times succeeded in achieving monumentality in the opposite way (the song  "Bude zima bude mráz" ["It Will be Cold, It Will Be Freezing"] instead of an inner confession). Impressive is the work with a hint – instead of a 15-meter statue on the stage, there is J.V. Stalin's thumb, and after a devastating explosion there is a mere index smoke from the collapsing monument.     

monument_02_foto_Marek Olbrzymek

The music of Marko Ivanović was betting on atmosphere and soundness, already in the first minutes there were mood-setting suggestive uproars and noises. Adhering to the intent of David Radok, the music did not refer to any particular period and concentrated on communicating the appropriate moods. These, however, alternated with high frequency. The resulting impression was fragmented in places, which was also contributed to by the blending of replicas of characters and choruses. A certain minimalism in the instrumentation was obvious – almost never the instrument groups sounded at the same time, on the contrary, the solos of the wind and percussion sections were numerous. All this had a great impact on the resulting impression - the opera experience was unusually intimate and unpretentious on the vast stage of Janáček Theatre. The singing role was divided among thirteen solo characters, most of their expression  was recitatively syllabic, and due to the short duration of the opera, the title roles of Svatopluk Sem and Markéta Cukrová did not get as much space as their briefly performed flawless performance deserved. Roman Hoza and Ondřej Koplík showed themselves on the stage for a slightly longer time – a positive fact is that even here the libretto did not adapt to external conditions. Although roles were tailored to the ensemble, the authenticity of the characters was the main and successfully achieved goal. One of the strongest musical aspects of the work consisted in the choruses, several times a capella, in which the Children's Choir Brno repeatedly excelled. The crowd of sculptors was old vocal polyphony (fourth picture), Latin singing in the church (eighth picture) created an atmosphere functionally contrasting with the rest of the opera.                   

Although the opera depicts the inner struggle of the main character, there is no real conflict reached in the story. Even without extensive inner monologues, it is clear at any moment what position each character takes and where it is heading to. The performance thus remained the announced description of the atmosphere of the era, the setting of which is not doubtable particularly due to costumes, hints in the libretto and rhetoric of the characters. The performance is dominated by low contrast and gray tones with occasional red accents. Although the processing of the facts has been done in a high-flying and authentic manner in all respects, it does not, in my opinion, bring any new insight into the issue that is commonly depicted in gray with a dose of absurdity. The resulting message was both predictable and unambiguous (the spectators were given very little space for their own interpretation), and hence in accordance with its formal eleven-fold variation.

The Monument

Premiere on 7th February 2020 at Janáček Theatre

author: Marko Ivanović

conductor: Marko Ivanović

stage design: David Radok

costumes: Zuzana Ježková

lighting design: Přemysl Janda

choirmasters: Pavel Koňárek, Michal Vajda and Valeria Maťašová

Sculptor: Svatopluk Sem (guest)

Wife: Markéta Cukrová (guest)

Colleague: Roman Hoza

Minister of Culture: Ondřej Koplík

Secretary: David Nykl

Wife of the 1st Secretary: Martina Mádlová

Lover: Tereza Kyzlinková

Singer: Andrea Široká

Secret Man 1: Igor Loškár

Secret Man 2: Petr Levíček

Deputy Minister: Pavel Valenta

Deputy Minister: Petr Karas

Sculptor: Martin Novotný

photo by Marek Olbrzymek

Comments

Reply

No comment added yet..

Electronic music, big beat and clubbing go together - but that’s only a small part of the truth. In fact electronic music was here long before clubbing, and thanks to enlightened teachers at JAMU it was doing very well indeed in Brno as early as the 1960s. That is, long before synthesizers and sequencers appeared on rock podiums, long before any old band had a computer, long before the first dance parties in glittering halls and dark cellars. Today electronic music is one of music’s most omnipresent genres: neither dance parties nor contemporary operas can do without it. Electronic big beat music has occupied reggae and swing, remixing is a daily affair, Brno artists have learned to sell instruments they built themselves to the whole world and to amplify an old knitting machine. As early as 1907 the composer Ferruccio Busoni dreamt of the future potential of electronic music, but not even his imagination and genius could have anticipated what Thaddeus Cahill’s first weird experiment with an immense electrical organ would lead to one day.  more

After Easter, an official statement that ruined every folklore lover's day appeared on social networks and in the media. The folklore festival in Strážnice will not take place this year. The reasons are well known to everyone. Yesterday, another wave of coronavirus lockdown easement began, and this was not the only reason why we talked to Martin Šimša, director of the National Institute of Folk Culture (NÚLK) in Strážnice. Well, is there really a reason for mourning? What can we look forward to in the immediate future? And when is the best time to visit the castle park and the open-air museum in Strážnice? These questions, and not only these, will be answered in the following interview.  more

Although cultural life has suffered significantly in the last two months, people's desire for an artistic experience has not faded. On the contrary – art and its role in our lives are perhaps needed even more than before. Hence, although concert halls are empty and listeners are forced to visit them only through recordings of their favourite concerts, a number of well-made music media  created (not only) in the beginning of the year helps to bridge over this unfortunate period.  more

”It’s a long journey to the West, / Pointless, fruitless is the longing,” began the first cowboy song recording issued by R. A. Dvorský’s publishing house in 1939. The theme and tone reflect the “tramping” movement, with its idealized vision of “America” and its unspoiled “nature”, which led Czechs to take to the woods, where they hiked, met round campfires and sang songs modelled on American folk songs and country music. So widespread was the tramping phenomenon that it made its way into popular music, where it long remained. Over time, the romance of the cowboy and the idea of a free life on the Great Plains found their way not only into songs sung by such late twenti- eth-century stars as Karel Gott, Helena Vondráčková and Waldemar Matuška but into social life itself: very few countries in Europe have such liberal laws when it comes to sleeping overnight, or even setting up camp, in the woods. In the past young people in Brno could choose whether to be “city slickers” hooked on discotheques or “wander- ers”, who would head for the main train station every Friday afternoon or Saturday and from there set out on the first train for wherever in the countryside it was heading to.  more

Bands that have been present on the scene for several decades have two options: Either they make a living from their own substance, and therefore from hits of the past. Or they are still trying to come up with something new, sometimes with the wishes of conservative fans in spite of it. The "Brno-based" group Poutníci (meaning Pilgrims in Czech), who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, are somewhere halfway in between. They still play Panenka [The Doll], which the audience demands, but fortunately they didn't get stuck and – maybe after a long time, but still – they come up with a new serial album, which should not pass unbeknown to the fans of Czech country and bluegrass.  more

The double album Hrubá Hudba, which was jointly created by producer Jiří Hradil (Lesní zvěř, Tata Bojs, Kafka Band and others) and the Horňácká muzika band of Petr Mička, is an extraordinary musical achievement that puts together genuine Horňácko singing (the CD Hlasy starého světa [Voices of the Old World]) and folklore shifted to modern musical expression (the CD Hrubá hudba [Rough Music]). In an extensive two-part interview, we talked to the two fathers of the project, Jiří Hradil and Petr Mička, about their long-term cooperation, their path to Hrubá Hudba and finally about the double album itself and the possible continuation of the project.  more

The Czech Radio Brno folklore section decided that it did not want to idle during the isolation that affected almost the entire world. In addition to "home" broadcasting taking place directly at editors' homes, it also announced a challenge. Listeners can now submit their music recordings to the radio editors; these recordings will eventually be broadcast on air.  more

“Every theatre is a madhouse, but opera is the ward for the incurable,” claimed Franz von Dingelstedt, the first director of the Court Opera House in Vienna. And he was right, for once someone’s fallen in love with opera, that’s it. Opera’s a stepchild of the Renaissance, with a Baroque wet nurse: it was on the cusp between these two great eras that the idea of purely sung theatre saw the light of day. Step by step, composers taught the art of singing to classical gods and brave women, Christian heroes and pagan enchantresses, a Seville barber, a Babylonian king and the Czech Mařenka and Jeník. But it was only here in Brno, thanks to Leoš Janáček, that truly psychological musical drama was born, drama that sees into a person’s heart. Today the Brno opera company has its home in a theatre named after Janáček, mounts a major festival devoted to the city’s most famous composer every two years, and has set its sights very high. “The more opera is dead, the more it flourishes,” pronounced the philosopher Slavoj Žižek when speaking of this fanatically loved but just as fanatically rejected genre. By this measure, opera in Brno these days must have been dead at least a dozen times.  more

To write a guide to music in Brno in the past and present means digging deep into one’s own recollections and those of others as well as into sources with varying degrees of reliability, and as far as possible not believing anything automatically but always asking “Did this really happen just like that?” And in doing so, to be very, very suspicious of one’s own memory. Two basic questions that cropped up in connection with almost every sentence were “What is it about this band or that event that makes them special? Would someone who’s never been to Brno and has no ties with the city find it interesting?”  more

Trumpet player Jiří Kotača is the leader of a young, but very interesting and healthily ambitious big band named Cotatcha Orchestra. While this Brno-based orchestra is still waiting for its first album, Kotača recently released a CD with his smaller ensemble – the international Alf Carlsson/Jiří Kotača Quartet. The album is entitled Journeysmore

Due to the impact of extraordinary measures taken because of the Covid-19 pandemic on stakeholders of the cultural and creative industries in Brno, Brno leaders and the Department of Culture of the Brno City Municipality are working intensively on a set of precautions for minimizing the damages. At the same time, communication is conducted on all levels of public administration, predominantly in collaboration with the Institut umění – Divadelní ústav [Arts and Theatre Institute], which is  mapping the situation on the nationwide level. Until 22 March 2020 you can help assess the current situation by means of an online survey (the link is provided below). Further steps will be taken according to the results of the survey.  more

The fourth subscription evening prepared by the Brno Philharmonic for the chief conductor's series called Philharmonic at Stadion and Janáček Theatre is an exceptional dramaturgical feat. The programme entitled "Pictures at an Exhibition", based on Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's initial composition, combines additional works originated in and inspired by painting: The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca by Bohuslav Martinů, and Mathis der Maler, a symphony by Paul Hindemith. Sounding painting is accompanied by unique, music-illustrated visualisations of Cori O’Lan in collaboration with Ars Electronica. This week's difficult situation, not only for cultural institutions, was managed by the Brno Philharmonic promptly and with a great acclaim. Much like Cirk La Putyka on the day before, the Philharmonic decided not to cancel the performance at the Janáček Theatre and to broadcast the music and visualisations on 12 March from the Besední dům live on the web and on social networks.  more

The story of fateful love of the beautiful courtesan Marguerite and her sweetheart Armand, as we know it from the autobiographical prose The Lady of the Camellias by Alexander Dumas Jr., need not be largely introduced. One of the most famous novels of the 19th century has already been subject to a number of remakes, and now the National Theatre Brno ballet ensemble also came up with a new modern concept of this story of pain, passion and self-sacrifice.  more

Last year, after several years of stagnation, Brno's folklore enthusiasts woke up again and began organizing gatherings with dulcimer music, folklore parties, etc. at several different venues. This is certainly gratifying. However, motivation, experiences and concepts differ. One of them is We <3 folklore in the Metro music bar.  more

Spontaneous joy of dancing is hiding behind the mysterious cry Šej-Haj-Hop! That is why the new school of Slovak folk dance in Brno chose it as its name. There are three friends behind it – Michal Janšto, Edita Borščová and Ondrej Mišík, who all met a few years ago at VSĽPT Poľana.  more

Editorial

Ensemble Opera Diversa is relaunching its activities. In the premises of the former Brno penitentiary it will perform a repeat performance of its mini-opera cycle Labské horrorroperry [Horrorroperras from the Elbe], written by Ondřej Kyas, Pavel Drábek and directed by Kateřina Křivánková.  more

Besední dům is coming back to life, with  concerts returning there. A project called End of Streaming. We're playing live again! will offer a grand total of eight concerts in four days, starting next Tuesday. Every day, from Tuesday to Friday, there will be two concerts with the same programme: one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. All with a chamber line-up, without wind instruments and for a maximum of 130 listeners.  more

PonavaFest is entering its fifth season. This year, however, it will take place as a series of smaller concerts on one stage only. Concerts are scheduled to take place from May to August; the organisers will also be streaming some of them online. The first part of the festival, with the subtitle Eine kleine Nachtmusik, will be taking place already this weekend. Tomáš Vtípil, Irena and Vojtěch Havel and others will be featured.  more

The JazzFestBrno International Festival has been moved from the spring months to the autumn; it will be opened by Avishai Cohen in September. The organisers have released twelve new dates for concerts, featuring Pat Metheny, Lizz Wright and others.  more

The Czech Ensemble Baroque is once again organising the Summer School of Baroque Music in Holešov, which focuses on authentic interpretation of early music. The 18th season bears the subtitle The Spiritual versus Secular in the Works of J. S. Bach; the guest for this season is the world-famous countertenor Andreas Scholl. The registration deadline is 1 June 2020.  more

The album entitled Dvořák & Martinů: Piano Concertos won the BBC Music Magazine Award in December 2019 - "Recording of the Month". Today it has become "Album of the Year". The victory was decided by listeners through online voting.  more

The Brno Cultural Parliament is releasing another issue of the Coronewsletter. You can discover in this article how cultural institutions are doing, where to search for culture online and what to look forward to in the coming days.  more

A jazz showcase festival called Central European Jazz Showcase is currently being prepared by the organisers of JazzFest Brno. This type of event is so far unparalleled in the Czech Republic. The two-day series of concerts will take place in November at the Goose on a String Theatre.     more

Today, April 30, is International Jazz Day. In response to the current coronavirus crisis, UNESCO music cities, among which Brno is also included, will celebrate this day with a live online streaming of a concert. This event, to be held as part of the Enjoy Jazz festival, will provide support to freelance artists. The concert will be transmitted live from the Ella & Louis Jazz Club in Mannheim, which also holds the title of UNESCO City of Music.  Performers include artists such as Nicole Metzger, Juliana Blumenschein, Bernhard Vanecek, Alexandra Lehmler and Olaf Schönborn, TC Debus, Claus Kiesselbach and other local artists. Spectators all around the world can support the artists by purchasing online tickets before the concert or even during the viewing of it.  more

The Brno-based music project Bartleby brings together the Czech Slam poetry champion Ondřej Hrabal (aka TKCR, rap) and double bassist Jakub Nožička (ex-Ponk). Their joint album features guests such as Michal Grombiřík, Michal Procházka, Matěj Štefík and Marek Kotača. The final mix and mastering of the album named #happiness was done in the studio of Jiří Topol Novotný.  more