Immortality as punishment? Don Juan in the role of Ahasver
The State OperaApproximate running time
2 hours 25 minutes, 1 intermission 20 minutesLanguage
In Czech, subtitles in English, GermanPremiere
June 12, 2022
The production is staged by the famous Spanish director Calixto Bieito, the holder of many prestigious international awards, and conductor Jiří Rožeň.
The Don Juan story, widely known due to W. A. Mozart’s splendid adaptation, is treated in a very different way in Erwin Schulhoff’s opera: Don Juan is punished for his sins by becoming immortal; instead of being redeemed by death, he is doomed to eternal suffering. The modern-time “Don Juan in a tuxedo”, jaded by all the pleasures and joys of life, is determined to reform his libertine ways and strives to find spirituality – yet just keeps finding sensuality and lust. After being rejected by a woman personifying Death, he tries to kill himself, but to no avail – he must live on …
State Opera Chorus
State Opera Orchestra
Also performing: National Theatre Opera Ballet dancers led by Jiří Hejna
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-speaking writer and translator Max Brod suggested to the composer Erwin Schulhoff, also a native of Prague, 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, it was performed as Flammen in concert on 16 April 1994 in Berlin. In the same year the opera was published with the German text by Schott. The State Opera will stage the work with K. J. Beneš’s original 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.
The production is part of the Musica non grata cycle.
Project Musica non grata revives the artistic legacy of male and female composers important to the musical life of interwar Czechoslovakia who were persecuted by National Socialism or for religious, racial, political or gender reasons. Musica non grata is the international music and cultural project of the Czech Republic and Germany, initiated and organized by the National Theatre in Prague and financially supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.
More information on NT websites or here.
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