Janáček’s The Excursions of Mr. Brouček coming to National Theatre

The First Republic satirical opera is still relevant in the current political climate

The National Theatre is premiering a new production of Leoš Janáček’s opera The Excursions of Mr. Brouček on March 22, with a second premiere on March 25.

The satirical opera had its first performance ever in 1920 at the National Theatre and is being brought back for the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia.

And it is a fitting choice. The work is closely ties to Czech culture. The opera is based on two fantasy-filled Svatopluk Čech novels: The True Excursion of Mr. Brouček to the Moon and The Epoch-making Excursion of Mr. Brouček, this time to the 15th Century.

The opera has again become timely, as society finds itself torn between high ideals and the forces of populism.

“Besides grand celebratory gestures, we can also expect deliberations on where and how (and whether at all) the Czech people have progressed over the past one hundred years. Opera is not usually capable of promptly reflecting the ‘burning questions of the present,’ yet we have available a work that … simply cannot not be staged at the National Theatre in 2018: Janáček’s opera The Excursions of Mr. Brouček, an absurd burlesque about the chronic moral insufficiencies of the Czech man, or – even better – little man,” the National Theatre states.

Both the source novels and the opera use satire and irony to explore human nature. Mr. Brouček is an unrefined and hard-drinking landlord in Prague who experiences a series of fantastic events as he travels to the moon and then to the Hussite uprising in 1420. In both excursions, Brouček encounters characters who are transformed versions of his earthly acquaintances. Audiences might recognize a similar narrative structure to The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy is transported to a fantasy world and meets versions of people she knows.

“Janáček’s indisputably most comical opera took some nine years (1908–17) to write, as the composer strove to furnish it with an appropriate final form. The Excursions of Mr. Brouček’s difficult genesis and journey to the stage of the National Theatre in Prague coincided with the very years of the no less complicated inception and building up of the Czechoslovak Republic,” the National Theatre states.

While many productions portray the main role for easy laughs, this new one will try to take a more difficult view of Mr. Brouček and shows him as a bit unsympathetic in the hopes people will recognize the same bad qualities in themselves.

Stage director Sláva Daubnerová focuses mainly on contemporary theater and dance using new media, and this production will use video art and projection. In recent years, she has appeared as a guest author, director and actress in several theaters in her native Slovakia and abroad, and has won several awards.

Jaroslav Březina will play the lead role of Mr. Brouček. He is a soloist of the National Theatre and has extensive experience with Czech composers, having played roles in The Bartered Bride, The Devil’s Wall, The Jacobin, The Devil and Kate, Jenůfa, Káťa Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Greek Passion, Juliette, and many others, not to mention roles in Mozart’s opera and other classics. He won the Thálie Award 2015.

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