Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Excursions of Mr. Brou?ek
Václav Neumann, cond; Bohumír Vich (
); Ivo Žídek (
); P?emysl Ko?í (
); Libu?e Domanínská (
); Karel Berman (
); Helena Tattermuschová (
Young Waiter/Child Prodigy/Student
); Prague Natl Th O/Ch
SUPRAPHON 3985-2, mono (2 CDs: 116:14)
James North wrote a review of a live performance of
The Excursions of Mr. Brou?ek
led by Ji?í B?lohlávek in
32:3. While I agree with his high regard for the work, and the substance of his observations regarding the quality of available recordings, I take issue with calling
a “charming romantic comedy.” Romantic comedy exists in this score for a pair of subsidiary characters over the first roughly 10–12 minutes of the work, between the acts and at the work’s conclusion for a minute each, outside a very noisy tavern that serves (and brings on stage) sausages. In other words, love and food—ideals and necessity providing a grounding frame to the lengthy content of the opera, the pair of drunken dreams of Mazal’s landlord, Mat?j Brou?ek. Traveling to the moon, he supplies a send-up of the petit-bourgeois’ understanding of art: Its inhabitants live on dew, and fall into ecstasies while reading aloud their own nonsensical works. Brou?ek’s second dream takes him back to 15th-century Prague and the Hussite Rebellion, where his modern morals come up very short of the courage and sacrifice of the times. If the first part has a Baron Münchausen-feel to it, with our very dull, ordinary hero turning down the affections of a moon maiden and taking a ride back to earth on the back of Pegasus, the latter is realistic, serious, and mordant. If
fits into any genre, it’s satire, successively light and dark.
Janá?ek does restore good humor at the end, when Brou?ek escapes back to the present after being roused by a fellow toper, whom he assures he thrashed the crusaders with his bare hands—while staggering with help to his bed. But the sharp differences between the tone of the two main acts almost certainly account for the lack of general interest in the opera outside the Czech Republic and Slovakia—and for its lengthy genesis of nine years, involving six different librettists in succession. In the end,
will likely always remain outside the composer’s charmed circle of internationally performed operas, but it is well worth knowing by anybody who enjoys the composer’s best work.
This version was recorded in 1962. My original LP copy of it is Supraphon 50531/3. It has the full text, with idiomatic translations into English, German, and French. Supraphon’s latest incarnation is in the mode of its current reissue series, supplying just brief plot synopses per three- to five-minute chunks of the opera. That’s pennywise, but
foolish. After all, it’s not as though the label has to pay licensing fees to any of the artists who have survived at this late date; and full bilingual texts would help make these analog rereleases, both mono and stereo ones, more competitive.
The recording has some fine things going for it. Top of the list is Václav Neumann, heard in his prime. The drooping tempos and failing momentum of later years are nowhere in sight. Instead, we have a vital reading of
that emphasizes color and the lyrical line, without neglecting the work’s more passionate pages. I’ve never heard the interlude featuring Brou?ek’s trip on Pegasus rendered with such detail and verve. Strong, too, is Bohumír Vich, perhaps best known for taking the role of Va?ek in An?erl’s 1947 recording of
The Bartered Bride
(currently available on Opera d’Oro 1354). He manages to convey the pompous, stolid character of Brou?ek without departing from the sung line. Ivo Židek is heard to stronger advantage than when he sang Jeník in
The Bartered Bride
of 1952 (Supraphon 3980). There his pinched top and uneven production marred an excellent conception of the role and fine enunciation; here, he truly sounds the exuberant youth. Libu?e Domanínská wasn’t quite 40 when
was made, but there’s little bloom to her voice, and a fluttery tone accompanied by some shrillness at lower dynamic levels. This makes her less effective as the lover Málinka, but her fearless ring when she opens up helps as Etherea and Kunka. P?emysl Ko?i’s slight wobble and lack of resonance detract from a keen appreciation of character in his three parts.
Sound is good for its age, with little constriction, and a reasonable separation between the stereo channels. The strings seem a bit wiry, but that can be compensated for with lower treble. There’s good balance between singers and the orchestra, too. If not a first choice in the field for this opera, it’s definitely recommended for fans of Neumann. They know what he could do at his best, and he does that here.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
The Excursions of Mr. Broucek by Leos Janácek
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1908-1917; Brno, Czech Republic
Venue: Domovina Studio, Prague
Length: 3 Minutes 20 Secs.
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