Janáček’s Diary of One Who Disappeared is a short (35 minutes) chamber work written as an expression of love for Kamila Stosslová, the woman decades his junior who was the inspiration for so much of the composer’s work. According to the Royal Opera House programme, this production by Ivo van Hove and Muziektheater Transparant, features Janáček’s music “…amplified for a 21st-century audience by new songs from Flemish composer Annelies Van Parys.” Why a 21st century audience should require the score to be “amplified” is a mystery, given that the work itself is a subtle piece on the nature of love, obsession and family, expressed in Janáček’s uniquely moving musical language.
It certainly was “amplified” in terms of length, taking an hour and a quarter in all, so as to become a new theatre piece in itself, with occasional interspersions from the original composer. Set in a very detailed, old-fashioned looking ‘live-work’ space, our hero is a sort of peacetime version of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘War Photographer,’ creating his images with the help of an older man who seems to represent the composer. Needless to say, the world of the woodlands is represented by an autumnal view through a half-screened window, and the lovers consummate their bond on a faded rug rather than the forest floor.
It’s all so very ‘right- on’ in that wearisome ‘object to this and we’ll label you a traditionalist’ way, so it’s a shame that the performance did not do a great deal to compensate for the bloodlessness of the production. Ed Lyon has a very fine voice, slightly astringent in the Philip Langridge style, and he did his best to inject some passion into his lines, but he was hampered by the production’s restricted space and concepts. Marie Hamard sang expressively as the ‘gypsy girl’ but she too found it challenging to present her character. Lada Valešova’s playing of the wonderful piano part was supportive but at times rather heavy. Wim van der Grun played the part of (presumably) the composer, affectingly reading aloud some of Janáček’s letters.
The main house at Covent Garden recently staged Katya Kabanova, so this piece gives audiences another chance to experience Janáček’s glorious music. As with that production, you might want to distance yourself from some of the staging here at the Linbury, but the lyrical beauty of the original musical language will still shine through.