Janacek fever hits Brno

22-01-2004

Janacek fever has hit the Czech Republic's second city, the Moravian capital, Brno. This year sees two major anniversaries in connection with Leos Janacek, one of the giants in the history of Czech music and perhaps Moravia's greatest son. It's the 150th anniversary of his birth, and this week is the 100th anniversary of the premiere in Brno of one of Janacek's greatest works, the opera, Jenufa. The Moravian capital is marking the event in style, as David Vaughan reports from Brno.

Leos JanacekLeos Janacek Jenufa is the work that first brought Leos Janacek international fame. It's an extraordinary piece of music and drama, bridging the 19th and 20th centuries, and combining raw social realism with Janacek's love of Moravian folk tradition. When it was first performed here in Brno exactly a hundred years ago it was an instant success, but it was several years before Prague's National Theatre, under the direction of Janacek's music rival, Karel Kovarovic, could be persuaded to perform it. So it was apt that this Wednesday, a hundred years to the day since the opera's first ever performance, Brno's Janacek Theatre in cooperation with the State Opera in Vienna, premiered a new production of Jenufa. This is an impressive production, powerful, dramatic and emotionally highly charged, under the direction of one of the most acclaimed international opera directors, David Pountney.

But this is just the beginning of a year celebrating Janacek in Moravia. Between now and the 5th February, Brno will be staging all nine of Janacek's operatic works. And that won't be all, as the secretary of the Janacek Foundation, Alena Nemcova, points out.

"There will be another big festival in the Autumn, when Janacek's symphonic and chamber works will be done, and then, between these two festivals, there will be a festival in Janacek's native village, Hukvaldy, in the summer just around the day when Janacek was born, so June/July; and also there will be a Janacek festival in the spa Luhacovice, which Janacek visited during his life every year."

But, despite his importance as a composer, Janacek has never won the huge popular attention enjoyed by his great compatriot, Antonin Dvorak, even here in Brno, the city where he spent much of his life.

"People coming to Brno and the cultural world, associate Janacek with Brno, but I think the wider public doesn't know Janacek so much. Janacek is still very modern for the listeners, who like much more this romantic and classic music. In the Brno theatre there were some seasons when during the whole year there was no Janacek opera performed, but there were four or five operas by Verdi."

But perhaps this anniversary year will help to confirm Janacek's place among the world's great composers, and remind the people of Brno itself of his importance to the very identity of the city. There will certainly be no shortage of opportunities to hear Janacek's music.

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