The piece... Let me just say I was relieved it was Janacek tackling Dostoevski's account of life in an imperial Russian prison camp. Without his particular brand of lyricism, the whole thing might have been way too bleak for comfort. Janacek just has this laid-back, almost serene outlook on life in all its harshness - maybe that's what comes with old age; it's his later work I'm most familiar with.
Another thing that's gonna stay with me is Patrice Chéreau's brilliant, and I mean truly bloody brilliant, personenregie. When it was announced before curtain-up that Erik Stokloßa (Aleja; I swear that man looks more than a decade younger than he actually is) was feeling poorly, but still planning to see the performance through, that turned out to be no bother at all, since the drama's every bit as important as the music, and boy, did that ever come across. It very nearly (though not quite) made up for the surtitles flamingo-up*, i.e., them being projected onto bits of scenery so as not to be visible from large sections on the left of the auditorium, including my seat on the balcony, for all of act 3. I'm sure it fitted wonderfully into the design concept, more power to them for thinking of that, but it would have been nice to have been warned. I'd have delved into the programme a bit deeper beforehand.
As it was, I paid a bit more attention to what was going on in the pit instead, and I realised that the words and music behaved rather like best pals. Like, when they hang out together, that's when it's most interesting, but each can function perfectly well all on its own. What with that and House of the Dead's episodic, anecdotal structure, it's music theatre more than opera. Even if it is, nominally, the fall and rise of Goryanchikov, he and Aleja don't get all that much stage time, so to speak. If anything, I came away with the impression that Skuratov was the central character, but that might have been due to John Mark Ainsley's performance. Don't think I'd ever seen him live before, so I dunno if he's always like this, or if it's Chéreau who brings it out, but I mean, dude. Seriously.
Next up, this Friday: Francesco Cavalli meets Mario Bava at the Rotterdam Opera Days. Wooh boy.
* Like a cock-up, only bigger