Nicky Spence

1. 11. 2024, 7 p.m., premiere

Janáček Theatre

Author: Leoš Janáček

Conductor: Marko Ivanović

Director: Robert Carsen

Ensemble: Janáček Opera of the National Theatre Brno

Co-production: Teatro Real, Madrid; Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin

 

Other dates of performance: 3.11. at 3 p.m., 3.12. at 7 p.m. (festival echoes); 4.12. at 7 p.m. (festival echoes, performance broadcast live on OperaVision)

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1. Mr. Brouček’s excursion to the moon

Act 1

The painter Mazal is arguing with his sweetheart Málinka, the daughter of the sacristan at the cathedral of St. Vitus, in front of the Vikárka inn on the castle hill in Prague. Mazal’s landlord, Mr. Brouček, has had more than he can handle and goes to make his way home. In order to anger Mazal, Málinka plays with Mr. Brouček, who in his drunkenness even promises her marriage. The conversation is overheard by the sacristan, but Brouček turns his promise into a joke and says that he would take Málinka to the moon. He is angry with the world and enviously looks up at the full moon – people up there must be happier, there are no painters, bankruptcies or Imperial councils. He falls asleep, drunk, and dreams about the moon.

Scene change

Brouček wakes up on the moon and looks in wonderment at the strange landscape and the inhabitants, who remind Brouček of his friends from Vikárka. Mazal is transformed into the ecstatic poet Hvězdomír Blankytný who, like the other moon people, does not wish to know about their earthly counterparts. Blankytný is in love with the esoteric Etherea (Málinka) and is almost ruined when Etherea falls in love with Brouček at first sight and, despite the protests of her father Lunobor (Sacristan) and Blankytný, she takes him away on the winged horse Pegas to the temple of the All-Knower.

 

Act 2

In the temple of the All-Knower the main word is had by the patron Čaroskvoucí (Würfl), who asks Brouček to sing some moon songs at a feast. Meanwhile Lunobor has seized Etherea and has dragged her away in a net. To Brouček’s amazement, at the feast they are serving only the aroma of flowers and the ravenous Brouček is in despair. During the recitation by the leading poet Oblačný he falls asleep, exhausted, and dreams about beer and pork with cabbage and dumplings. Not even the painter Duhoslav fills him with enthusiasm and when Brouček pulls out a piece of ham from his pocket the terrified moon artists fall into a swoon. Etherea does not give up and once more entices Brouček. The poets come round from their faint, the angered Brouček pushes aside Etherea and in the general confusion he sits on Pegas and flies away.

Scene change

During the celebration song by the inn landlord Würfl the group of artists from Vikárka leave at dawn and bring the worn-out Brouček home in a chest. Málinka and Mazal become reconciled and sing of their love for one another.

Epilogue

In the afternoon Brouček wakes up at home in his bedroom and before he has a chance to remember his moon dream, Málinka and Mazal arrive in order to ask their landlord to accept the retraction of Mazal’s notice of departure from the house. Brouček is so astonished by the appearance of Málinka – Etherea, that he signs the retraction without protest. In the end Brouček has hard work on his hands to become friends once again with his enraged housekeeper.

 

2. Mr. Brouček’s excursion to the 15th century

Act 1

This evening the group of friends at Vikárka are talking about the medieval underground corridors. Brouček sets off for home and suddenly finds himself in an underground cellar, where he walks along a secret corridor and finds himself in the chamber of the crown jewels in the Old Town. As soon as he leaves the chamber, Svatopluk Čech appears before him and sings an ode to the famous history of the Czech people.

Scene change

Brouček exits not far from Old Town Square, but everything looks different from how he is accustomed. The people are strangely attired, speak a strange form of Czech and somebody convinces Brouček that it is 1420. At first Brouček takes everything as a joke, but understands the seriousness of the situation when he is identified as an enemy spy. It would have ended badly, had the knight Domšík taken him from Zvon (Sacristan). The armed people prepare for battle and, singing, go to pray at the Týn church.

 

Act 2

At the house of Domšík Brouček is not enjoying having to become accustomed to the new situation. He would most like to disappear secretly, but must change into Hussite clothes. Domšík’s daughter Kunka (Málinka) gathers her friends, prepared for battle, and tells them of the service in the Týn church, where the commander Žižka was also present. They all discuss the battle situation and dispute the meaning of the battle, truth and religion. Brouček does not display any enthusiasm for battle and even states that it is all the same to him and that he would not fight because King Zikmund had done nothing to harm him. An argument breaks out, during which Petřík (Mazal) runs in with news that the battle on Špitálské Field had already begun. They all run to battle and push Brouček, with a weapon in his hand, out of the door – hw however secretly creeps back and quickly changes into his original clothing.

Scene change

The victorious Hussite soldiers go to Old Town Square to receive the adulation of the people. Domšík had fallen in battle, and Brouček tells of his heroism in battle, but Domšík’s friends had seen him on his knees before a crusader knight and accused him of treachery. Brouček is rammed into a wooden barrel and is sentenced to be burned.

Scene change

In the courtyard of Vikárka the landlord Würfl leans over the barrel, in which Brouček is sitting in his dream, with a lit candle in his hand. Brouček is relieved to find that he is back home and does not forget to boast to Würfl, how bravely he had fought alongside Žižka and had helped to save Prague.

Director: Robert Carsen
Conductor: Marko Ivanović
Scene: Radu Boruzescu
Costumes: Annemarie Woods
Lights: Robert Carsen / Peter van Praet
Choreography: Rebecca Howell
Dramaturgy: Robert Carsen / Patricie Částková
Assistant Director: Gilles Rico
Costume Assistant: Ilona Karas
Stage Assistant: Matěj Kos

 

Cast: 

Matěj Brouček – Nicky Spence
Mazal / Blankytný / Petřík – Daniel Matoušek
Sacristan at St. Vitus Cathedral / Lunobor / Domšík of the Bell – David Szendiuch
Málinka / Etherea / Kunka – Doubravka Součková
Würfl / Čaroskvoucí / Councillor – Jan Šťáva
Little Waiter / Child Prodigy / Student: – Andrea Široká
Kedruta – Václava Krejčí Housková
Svatopluk Čech – Roman Hoza
Poet / Cloudy / Vacek Bradatý / Other voice – Tadeáš Hoza
Painter / Duhoslav / Vojta of Peacokcs / Voice of the Professor – Vít Nosek
Composer / Harpoboy / Miroslav the Goldsmith – Ondřej Koplík
First Taborite – Kornél Mikecz
Second Taborite / Another Poet (Moon part) – Pavel Valenta

The motto of the 9th edition of the festival No limits! was inspired by Janáček’s fifth opera The Excursions of Mr. Brouček, in which the main character takes us to the Moon and for a journey through time to the 15th century. The same motto could be used to describe the work of director Robert Carsen, creator of productions appreciated worldwide for their dramatic grasp, poetics, humour and artistic sophistication. The famous director’s path intersected with the work of the Czech composer many years ago and today Carsen has staged six of Janáček’s operas. In 2020, he created a production of Destiny for the Brno ensemble and now he returns to the stage of the Janáček Theatre to open the festival with his new production of The Excursions of Mr. Brouček

None of Janáček’s operas can be called comic, although humour is never absent in them, but rather as rare spice. But in this opera about the landlord from Malá Strana, a typically Czech little man, Janáček sparkles with humour, even if it is quite sharp-edged. Janáček found his inspiration in the popular novellas by the poet Svatopluk Čech and complemented his satire to perfection with music in a dance rhythm and the use of unusual instruments such as the glass harmonica or bagpipes. While the first part of the opera, the trip to the Moon, aimed its blistering humour at Prague critics, intellectuals and artists, the second half, set in the Hussite period, took aim at the unpleasant qualities of the Czech nation in general. 

The opera was not easy to create, Janáček changed several librettists and it took him nine years to reach a successful conclusion of The Excursion of Mr Brouček to the Moon after all the trouble with the libretto. At the end, he sighed at his poets: “Oh, but our poets! One is to tell them everything – and the result is still poor!” Nevertheless, after finishing the opera, he decided to expand it with one more part, an excursion to the 15th century. This time, he and the librettist F. S. Procházka managed to produce it quickly, but from then on Janáček wrote his own librettos. And why did he choose Čech’s Mr. Brouček? He described it beautifully in his letter to Kamila Stösslová: 

“So do you know who Brouček is? He’s just an ordinary man; he swears at the world and spends his life with a jug of beer in his hand. There is no use for him in the world. And you ask: “Why would you choose such a man for the opera then?” So that he may be an abomination to all, for mockery and a warning! The Russians also had such a “soft” man; his name was Oblomov. In fact, every other Russian was an Oblomov – and how they ended! A terrible revolution, now rivers of blood are cleaning it. That’s why I’m putting Brouček on display – as a warning. There are also more than enough of Broučeks here everywhere! All they think about are their stomachs. So my dear little Brouček gets drunk again, falls asleep somewhere in Hradčany and dreams: He flies to the Moon! He falls down there. Oh, the horror! The people there are satiated only by the scent of flowers. They only let Brouček sniff the flowers. And now there’s a Moonwoman falling in love with him! No blood, body like a stick!”