Janácek (The) Excursions of Mr Broucek
Mr Broucek's excursions may have carried him to the moon and the 15th century, but it took him longer to travel beyond his native land into the opera houses and recording studios of the world. After the 1920 Brno premiere, the first foreign performance came in Munich in 1959, under Keilberth, and was recorded, though it is in German and really only of historic interest. Václav Neumann's 1962 Supraphon set paved a way but it was overtaken in 1982 by Frantisek Jílek's fine set, with Vilém Pribyl in the title-role (2/95). Charles Mackerras has never recorded it (yet?), though he conducted the English premiere in 1978 and is known to love the work.
And a lovable work it is. The first excursion in particular is packed with vivid invention; the second dips deeper into wells of Czech history. It all needs the sharp hand and light touch with the agile rhythms which Belohlávek brings to it. He is not helped by a recording that sets the singers too far back and obscures a good deal of the words, especially in the chorus, though matters improve once the moon is reached. Jan Vacík gives a lively account of poor Broucek, first stranded among the moon aesthetes and then mired in religious controversy, preserving the little man's dignity and allowing him a touching quality that sees him through it all. If he lacks the warmth and the rounded character of Vilém Pribyl, this is still a fresh and attractive portrayal.
There is, as always, much doubling in the cast. Peter Straka is an elegant Mazal and Petrík, lightly caricaturing his own elegance to send up the posturing Azurean poet (Fritz Wunderlich was splendid in these roles for Keilberth). Maria Haan is a lively Málinka, putting on airs and graces for Etherea and returning to a fresh simplicity for Peter's lover Kunka. The many other parts include sturdy contributions from Roman Janál and Zdenek Plech, though the sense of atmosphere and the depth of feeling which lies under all the satire are richer with Jílek's handling of both singers and orchestra.
In Neumann's version, the booklet texts edited out religious references, which loses a lot of the point. They were back, post-communism, for Jílek's CD, which had a skilful English version; the new record uses a revision of Norman Tucker's singing translation.