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Bleak House


The local critics have been fawning all over the Met's new production of Janáček's From the House of the Dead - Alex calls it "one of the finest things the Met has ever done" - so I decided to stop by on Saturday night to see what all the fuss was about. The opera, based on Dostoevsky's novel about life in a Siberian prison, is unusual in a number of respects: there is no main character, no discernible plot, and no female characters - except for those the prisoners speak of in reminiscence. The performance, which was without an intermission, lasted less than two hours.

The music, which was written in 1928, is classic Janáček: full of driving rhythms and melodies written in an almost childlike simplicity. The production, by French director Patrice Chereau, was both stark and captivating, with some startling dramatic flourishes amidst the general bleakness. Esa-Pekka Salonen, making his Met debut, conducted with everything he had, fully aware of the stakes at hand. And the performers - especially Peter Mattei (Shishkov) and Willard White (Gorianchikov) were all strong.

Still, I left the house feeling empty and cold. This is an opera that's hard to like, and even harder to understand. Guess that doesn't make me much of a critic, does it? (More pics below.)


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