Credit: NdB

Brno National’s ‘Here I Am, Orlando’ Has Its World Premiere On Friday

Gender — whether viewed through traditional male and female roles or through investigation of other gender definitions — has always served as fodder for creativity. Virginia Woolf’s novel ‘Orlando’ dealt with this topic a century ago. Now, the Brno National Theatre (NdB) will use the storyline of that book to address the complex theme with the world premiere of its opera, ‘Here I am, Orlando’, at Janáček Opera House this Friday, 14 June, at 7 pm.

The opera was created specifically for the Brno ensemble by a Czech-Slovak writing and production team led by the internationally recognised Slovak composer Ľubica Čekovská.

It serves as the climax to the 2023-24 Year of Czech Music.

“The strong story, which is something an opera needs, appealed to me,” Čekovská said. “It occurred to me that I would be able to ‘connect’ with old music compositionally in this musical space… Renaissance and early Baroque… but ‘in my own way’. It is a great challenge for a composer. I love the big shape of opera. It’s like a living house on several floors that lives and breathes. There are so many components involved in the whole production, and success is when none of them draws excessive attention to itself. It’s a collective endeavour. But the tectonic outline of an opera is determined first and foremost by the libretto, which must have an extremely clear structure for the composer, and the composer must feel at home in it, as if they were ‘in their pyjamas’.”

Credit: NdB

The performance is truly international. The title role of Orlando/Orlanda will be performed by mezzo-soprano Markéta Cukrová and Israeli countertenor Maayan Licht. The iconic Slovak actress Magdalena Vášáryová is to be a special guest in the role of Queen Elizabeth.

Čekovská has also made the greatest possible use of the strengths of the Janáček opera ensemble, including its large choir, in her composition.

Robert Kružík, the future chief conductor of NdB’s Janáček Opera House, will be in charge of the musical direction. Martin Buchta is the choral director.

Librettist Viktorie Knotková found inspiration in Woolf’s novel, a work that was an extremely personal testimony for the author. The themes of Orlando – the search for one’s own identity and place in society and the prejudices that people have to contend with – are still relevant today.

Credit: NdB

“I was fascinated by the journey through time,” said director Jiří Heřman. “Orlando’s sleep between life and death that comes for the first time after the intense and painful end of his first love. I like how Virginia Woolf approached the topic of male and female identity. It’s funny, delicate and painful. And that wonderful end that pumps lifeblood into our veins – let us live life in the here and now. These are wonderful topics.”

Director Heřman, the artistic director of the Janáček Opera, approached Čekovská for this adaptation. She had previously impressed with her operas Dorian Gray and Impresario Dotcom, the latter of which premiered at the Bregenzer Festspiele.

NdB’s Janáček Opera House orchestra has become one of the leading interpreters of new works of opera, including successful performances of contemporary operas by world-renowned composers Kaiji Saariaho and Thomas Adès, as well as Marko Ivanović and Michal Nejtek.

Credit: NdB

“As a performer, whether as a conductor or a cellist, I have always liked performing works at their very first performance,” said conductor Robert Kružík. “It’s something that one doesn’t encounter that often, and interacting with a composer is always interesting and rewarding. As a performer, I don’t have to argue with myself about what the composer probably meant by it a few hundred years ago.”

‘Here I Am, Orlando’ will be performed many more times. Scheduled dates so far are: June 16 and 19, Sept. 14, Oct. 13, Dec. 22, and Jan. 5, 2025.

The National Theatre of Brno (NdB) presents opera, ballet, and theatrical performances. Click here for the full schedule and more details.

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