This Friday, the Brno National Theater presented a new production of Greek Passions, an opera by Bohuslav Martinů with an extensive choral part. The premiere was originally supposed to take place last year, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the author’s death and 130 years since his birth, but was delayed by a pandemic.
Greek Passions was staged by Robert Kružík at the Janáček Theater and directed by Jiří Heřman. The reruns are scheduled for Sunday, then on November 19 and again again next year.
Martinů composed the four-act opera on his own libretto based on the novel Christ Crucified again by the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis. It takes place in a Greek village, whose inhabitants are preparing for passion games and at the same time must take a stand on a group of refugees from another village destroyed by a Turkish invasion.
“I don’t feel the need to descriptively update the events of the Greek Passions to the refugee camp or other possible updates,” says director Jiří Heřman, recalling that Martinů himself experienced a fate.
The composer has lived in France since the 1920s, after emigrating France to the Nazis he and his wife emigrated to the USA, from where he returned to Europe shortly before his death in the 1950s. “His music springs from the places where he was born, and despite all the experience of a globetrotter and later a forced emigrant, he always returned home to Polička, to the hills of Vysočina and filled it with a deep understanding of everything hidden in man,” says Heřman.
He describes Greek passions as a stage poem evoking the parable of a serious conflict in society and hope. According to him, Martinů created a great humanistic message about the power of faith.
In the director’s story, the inner transformation of a person who is assigned a role in passion plays was most interesting. “Watching the individual characters identify with the assigned roles, how they cope with the weaknesses of the human ego and free themselves from it is inspiring to me. Martinů described this human tragedy in music as ingeniously as powerful nature. The music is often transparent and full lights, gives us hope that never ends, “adds Heřman.
Greek passions exist in two full versions. The authors of the Brno production chose the Zurich one with an original English libretto, completed in 1959.
The main roles are performed by soloists of the Brno Opera and regular guests, such as Peter Berger as Manolios, Pavla Vykopalová in the role of Kateřina and Jan Šťáva as Grigoris. The opera choir is complemented by members of the Czech Academic Choir and the Brno Children’s Choir.