Never shy from letting his imagination run riot on the opera stage, David Pountney and his design team have created a zany and witty production with plenty of contemporary references. It is a pity the Dominic Raab and Angela Rayner snob opera spat (wink and all) had not happened while the show was being put together as it would have fitted in nicely.
Grange Park Opera’s near fantasy opera house in the woods is the apt home for this rarely performed 1920 Janáček rarity – the boozy, sausage loving and women chasing Prague landlord’s fantasy journey to the Moon and then the 15th century – based on two novels by Svatopluk Cech.
The visual appeal is undeniable with a tourist kitsch set for Mr Brouček’s Prague complete with a huge Lenin candle, a snow globe, a pop-up Charles Bridge, postcards and guidebooks, beer steins aplenty, and the backdrop a vast Praha souvenir plate. The characters weave around, up and down, in and out of his collection of gift shop tat – not to forget a dancing sausage vendor
When our sozzled grouchy landlord escapes to find a better time on the Moon he instead finds a retro tinfoil spaceman world. Here the artsy-fartsy, flower-sniffing, gender vague, sausage rejecting inhabitants (particularly in the Lunar Temple of the Arts) prove to be even more repellent. After a brief sojourn back to reality (or sobriety) and many more steins later, he finds himself midst the 15th siege of Prague thanks to falling into a secret labyrinth of tunnels supposedly dug under the medieval city. In keeping with the in-your-face near slapstick of Pountney’s production this magical mystery tour all happens while he is sitting in the khazi.
The translation is essential for this satirical romp. On his journey to the Moon in particular, the new translation takes every opportunity to update the satire to modern targets so we had verbal swipes at music critics, arts sponsors, politicians, vegans, and visually, a catalogue of outlandish characters, dancers, musicians and crazy props such as a flying beer can with beermat wings. Does it all work? Well, it is certainly a surreal trip that would have probably required something more hallucinogenic than Czech lager, which is a constant theme of the production.
Clive Bayley and Mark Le Brocq
The pace slows for the darker excursions to medieval Prague, whose civic leaders are wheeled around on platforms made from beer crates. As we slipped into this act we have Vaclav Havel composing poetry in his prison cell. Spliced into the history is a fun fall of the Berlin Wall dance sequence. However, the “reality” of the violence of actually fighting for his country alongside the warriors of the Hussite uprising against the Holy Roman Empire in 1420 all becomes too much for Mr Brouček who returns to his “real” world after having been put into a beer barrel for being a coward.
From start to finish, designer Leslie Travers and costume designer Marie-Jean Lecca clearly had a ball.
Throughout, Peter Hoare was an energetic, firmly sung Brouček, a ridiculous near anti-hero who we cannot avoid liking, despite his vulgarity, vileness and many faults – and the composer’s intent. While he remains the boozed-up, lecherous, fool throughout the opera, the other cast members appear in the excursions in different carnations – a bit like the Wizard of Oz! We are first introduced to them in Brouček’s despised hometown; Clive Bayley as the Sacristan, Fflur Wyn as his daughter Málinka, Andrew Shore as the barman Würfl and Mark Le Brocq as the painter. In the other worlds they assume fantastical manifestations of their earthly characters. In particular, Fflur Wyn excels as she transforms from Málinka to the lunar goddess Etherea and Domšík’s daughter Kunka. Giving energetic performances in their crazy characterisations were Mark Le Brocq, Andrew Shore, Clive Bayley and Anne-Marie Owens.
Conductor George Jackson guided the BBC Concert Orchestra on a similarly adventurous journey through the score of an opera that while certainly an interesting experience may remain more of an acquired taste than Czech pilsner and sausages. Think about it all too hard and you may find yourself as stranded as passengers on a boozy weekend to the Czech capital.
Until July 7
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