Time warps, dance numbers and a maypole made out of an umbrella – Osud is full of surprises.
Živný isn’t an easy man to like, while all his fellows laugh and frolic around, he stands aloof, a misunderstood composer, treated badly in a backstory we don’t see – and yet it’s him, not them, that gets the girl (Míla is wildly charismatic and all smiles in the first act, a stark contrast to Giselle Allen’s previous outing as Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana).
But what good does it do either of them? In the next scene, Živný has transformed from wooer to torturer, playing back Mila’s betrayal over and over again, while her mother slowly loses her mind in the background and their son openly wonders if they know what love is.
It’s not easy to watch. It’s painful, like an open wound, and in a way, it is. Janáček writes from experience, wearing his heart on his sleeve, just like Živný – this opera is almost autobiographical after all, and we see it in act three, as Živný’s unfinished opera so clearly tells his own story (just as Janáček’s tells his).
For me, this was where Opera North really came into their own. It wasn’t just the vocals, although they were fantastic, it was the theatricals too. Not only did they recreate the thunderstorm with an all-male chorus, but they added the hand-clapping, foot-stomping excitement of a roomful of students – and as Živný lost his mind, the real thunder boom saw everyone drop to the floor in perfect unison.
You see, they worked out that Živný put his own tragic story into an opera and they asked him, oh-so-subtly, to tell them the composer’s story. He does, but the emotion is too close to the surface, and it pushes him over the edge. It’s only then, in those last moments, that you break through the shell of this distant, awkward character.
Oh gosh, that all sounds a bit deep, doesn’t it? Well don’t worry, Osud also has some incredible moments of respite, and it really is a bit mad, so don’t expect it to be all deep and thinky-thinky. It kicks off with a cracking little ‘time warp’ scene that will send you back through Živný’s memories in a swirl of chairs and props.
And as the lovers are reunited, their story is interspersed with a marvellous dance sequence (yes, there’s dancing in the opera) as two very different sets of singers come against each other – one formal, one frivolous and fancy-free. There’s a maypole made out of an umbrella, but the whole scene has a Russian feel to it and it’s just spectacular.
Osud is a complicated opera, it’s a tricky one, but it’s worth the effort, and it’s rare to see. It’s not often that you get such an open glimpse into the composer’s psyche, so catch it while you can.
See Osud at Leeds Grand Theatre from Wednesday 11th October to Friday 20th October 2017.