Immortality as punishment? Don Juan in the role of Ahasver
The State OperaApproximate running time
2 hours 30 minutes, no intermissionLanguage
June 12, 2022
The State Opera Chorus and Orchestra
In the first few decades of the 20th century, Prague was a truly multicultural city, with the Czech and German artists inspiring each other. The German writer and translator Max Brod suggested to the composer Erwin Schulhoff, also of German descent, that a new play by the Czech writer Karel Josef Beneš might make a good basis for the libretto to his new opera. Even though Beneš was yet to attain international acclaim for his psychological novels Uloupený život (Stolen Life) and Kouzelný dům (The Magic House), which would be adapted as films both at home and abroad, Schulhoff was intrigued by his unconventional retelling of the Don Juan legend. At the time, he was influenced by late Impressionism and Expressionism, but, like many other composers, he was engrossed by jazz and had a penchant for experimentation. All these inclinations duly reflected in his one and only opera, Flammen (referring to flames of love and death), blending elements of opera, pantomime and tone poem, which, following its premiere, in Czech, under the title Plameny, on 27 January 1932 in Brno, fell into oblivion for decades. Interest in the piece only revived in the 1990s, when, using Max Brod’s German translation and with the score partially changed, it was performed as Flammen in concert on 16 April 1994 in Berlin. In this version, it was published by Schott. The State Opera will stage the work in the original version, with K. J. Beneš’s Czech libretto.
When working on Flammen, its creators could not have anticipated that they would meet similar fates. For his participation in the anti-Nazi resistance movement, Beneš was sentenced to death, yet the verdict was changed to imprisonment (1941–1945). Schulhoff did not live to see the end of World War II. Labelled as a “degenerate” (Jewish) artist, he was incarcerated in the Wülzburg prison camp in Bavaria, where on 18 August 1942 he died of tuberculosis.
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