Matej Broucek is a popular figure in Czech literature. It is surprising that the everyman character seems to represent the worse features of humanity. Broucek (the name translates as ‘ Beetle’) has few concerns than filling his belly, is contemptuous of artistic efforts and is a coward and possible traitor. His role in the opera seems to be to encourage the audience to condemn such characteristics but this can make depressing viewing. It is remarkable that John Graham-Hall, as the eponymous hero, is able to generate a degree of sympathy for the character as well as giving a fine vocal performance.
In an effort to inspire jealousy Malinka (Anne Sophie Duprels) flirts with heavy drinker Matej Broucek. He has little time for her artistic lover Mazal (Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts) and, the worse for drink, wishes he could escape all his neighbours by travelling to the moon. Although he apparently achieves his wish Broucek is horrified to find that he has even less in common with the artistic community that populates the moon.
If, in the first Act, we are invited to mock the pretensions of the artists and the boorish behaviour of Broucek. In Act Two we are encouraged to celebrate heroism. The author of the books appears and bemoans the fact that it is currently the trend to be ironic about feats of heroism and Broucek travels not through space but time to the 15th Century when Prague achieved a significant victory over an invading army.
The source material for the opera comes from two novels by Svatopluk Cech. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the two acts of Leos Janacek’s Opera are quite distinct from each other in terms of both subject matter and music. In the first Act the horns and strings complement each other to create a lyrical, almost dreamy, sound that fits well with the striking lunar landscapes that Finn Ross projects into the foreground. In the second Act the music is more powerful and driving giving a martial atmosphere to a story of conflict. Despite the slightly disjointed structure of the opera a full orchestra conducted by Martin Andre provide consistently excellent music throughout.
John Fulljames directs with imagination and, from the start, contrasts the themes of disappointment and disillusionment with a sense of wonder. A clock showing the actual time reverses and takes us back to 1968 when we see the moon being colonised by, apparently, the Czech republic. This turns out to be a TV show which nicely sets us up for an opera in which things are rarely what they seem.
Despite the efforts of all involved Mr. Broucek is too disjointed to fully engage the emotions and remains a show that is interesting rather than moving.