JANACEK The Excursions of Mr Broucek


Die Ausflüge des Herrn Broucek
The Excursions of Mr Broucek
Vacík · Straka · Haan · Janál
Smídová · Plech · Bauerová
BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jirí Belohlávek
Int. Release 14 Jan. 2008
0289 477 7387 0
CD DDD 0289 477 7387 0 GH 2
Rarely performed Janáček opera enriches DG’s opera catalogue

Track List

CD 1: Janacek: The Excursions of Mr Broucek

Leos Janácek (1854 - 1928)
Výlety pana Broucka

edited by Jiri Zahrádka

Cást 1: Výlet pana Broucka do mesíce

Jednání 1


BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek


Maria Haan, Peter Straka, Roman Janál, Jan Vacík, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Peter Straka, Jan Vacík, Zdenek Plech, Maria Haan, Roman Janál, Martina Bauerová, Ales Briscein, Jaroslav Brezina, Václav Sibera, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge


Peter Straka, Maria Haan, Ales Briscein, Jaroslav Brezina, Václav Sibera, Martina Bauerová, Jan Vacík, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek

Peter Straka, Jan Vacík, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Peter Straka, Jan Vacík, Roman Janál, Maria Haan, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Maria Haan, Roman Janál, Peter Straka, Jan Vacík, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Jednání 2

Zdenek Plech, Ales Briscein, Maria Haan, Jan Vacík, Roman Janál, Peter Straka, Václav Sibera, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Jan Vacík, Edward Goater, Christopher Bowen, Zdenek Plech, Martina Bauerová, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge


Zdenek Plech, Jan Vacík, Václav Sibera, Roman Janál, Martina Bauerová, Maria Haan, Peter Straka, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge


Jaroslav Brezina, Jan Vacík, Martina Bauerová, Zdenek Plech, Maria Haan, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Peter Straka, Roman Janál, Jan Vacík, Maria Haan, Ales Briscein, Martina Bauerová, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Ales Briscein, Zdenek Plech, Peter Straka, Maria Haan, Martina Bauerová, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Total Playing Time 1:05:00

CD 2: Janacek: The Excursions of Mr Broucek

Leos Janácek (1854 - 1928)
Výlety pana Broucka

edited by Jiri Zahrádka

Cast 2: Výlet pana Broucka do XV. století

Jednání 3


BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek

Jaroslav Brezina, Václav Sibera, Jan Vacík, Zdenek Plech, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Ivan Kusnjer, Jan Vacík, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek

Zdenek Plech, Jan Vacík, Roman Janál, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Roman Janál, Zdenek Plech, Jan Vacík, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Jednání 4

Jan Vacík, Roman Janál, Lenka Smídová, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek


Roman Janál, Jan Vacík, Maria Haan, Václav Sibera, Ales Briscein, Jaroslav Brezina, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Maria Haan, Roman Janál, Václav Sibera, Ales Briscein, Jaroslav Brezina, Jan Vacík, Martina Bauerová, Peter Straka, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek


Peter Straka, Roman Janál, Ales Briscein, Jaroslav Brezina, Václav Sibera, Jan Vacík, Maria Haan, Lenka Smídová, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Peter Straka, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Charles Gibbs, Ivan Kusnjer, Jan Vacík, Peter Straka, Zdenek Plech, Maria Haan, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Peter Straka, Jaroslav Brezina, Zdenek Plech, Jan Vacík, Václav Sibera, Lenka Smídová, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Singers, Stephen Betteridge

Total Playing Time 57:57

. . . it was the irresistible characterisation of the superb tenor Jan Vacik, with his squeaky shoes, handlebar moustache and bowler hat, or the compassion that never ceases to breathe out of Janácek's music . . . With Jirí Belohlávek conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the excellent BBC Singers, Janácek's magical realism, his musical metamorphoses of animate and inanimate creation, his great twinkling night skies, all unfurled like a dream from which we never wanted to wake.

Jirí Belohlávek conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra with formidable passion throughout . . . stirring choruses and ricocheting brass figurations finally mark the emergence of Janácek's mature compositional voice and usher in music as daring as anything he wrote . . . It was all thrillingly done . . .

Presented with a performance of Janácek's -"The Excursions of Mr Broucek" as thrilling as that given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under its chief conductor Jirí Belohlávek, it's hard to see why it is not as popular an opera as "The Cunning Little Vixen" . . . it was left to the singers -- an almost wholly Czech cast -- to carry the story, which, from Vacík's wily Broucek downwards, they did with commitment and panache . . . it was Belohlávek and the blazing orchestral playing he inspired that together carried the day: the BBCSO hasn't played this well for years.

There are occasions when a conductor is so inside a piece of music that, even if you are not familiar with the idiom or might not warm to it under other circumstances, the performance persuades you on its own terms. That will surely have been the experience of many on Sunday, when Jirí Belohlávek led a "concert staging" of Janácek's "The Excursions of Mr Broucek" . . . few conductors are willing or able to take on the challenge . . . On Sunday Belohlávek proved equally inspiring. He steered a path through the devilish changes of metre in a way that made you wonder whether the BBC Symphony Orchestra had been playing this music all its life: it sounded so lyrical. His cuing of the BBC Singers was equally flawless. He underlined the sublime sweetness of the interludes by refusing to indulge them, and made the Act 2 climax -- all bells, trumpets and battle-chorus -- really hum. Bouquets to Kenneth Richardson for his discreet "staging", to Maria Haan and Martina Bauerova, both classic exponents of Janácek's high-lying character-soprano parts; and to the other members of this all-Czech cast, each of whom made wonderful sense of the text. As for Jan Vacik's Broucek, it was hard to believe we weren't face-to-face with a definitive realisation: it wasn't just the specs, the paunch or the period dress, but Vacik's knack of inhabiting Broucek's flaws and turning them into an endearing portrait of life.

. . . it is with Jirí Belohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra inflecting it with so much care and attention to detail . . . The music of the spheres grows out of a series of infectious waltzes . . . With so many Czechs in the cast the ensemble could hardly have sounded more authentic. I would single out Zdenek Plech with a bass voice to match his size and a role (the publican Wurfl) making that all the more credible. Valiant, too, was Peter Strakażs tenor tirelessly strafing Janácekżs impossibly high tessitura.

Under Belohlávek's scrupulous guidance, the BBCSO players gave Janácek's music its idiomatic and urgent edge . . .

The BBCSO's chief conductor, Jirí Belohlávek, made a persuasive case for the work, and the mostly Czech cast . . . sang lustily and with authentic flavour. The BBC Singers were the excellent chorus.

The Czech maestro clearly retains a few friends in his homeland's operatic circles, whence he imported a pitch-perfect cast of seasoned performers whose assurance in their parts clearly derived from the stage. The lively interaction between Jan Vacik's roguish Broucek and the star-crossed lovers of Maria Haan and Peter Straka kept us going through the wackier moments of a work boasting all Janácek's fanciful trademarks. Interested parties will be pleased to know that the performance was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon.

Conductor Jirí Belohlávek and the BBC Symphony gave it everything they had, with some rich central European tone colours shining forth. In Kenneth Richardsonżs semi-staging, Jan Vacik was a grotesquely vivid Broucek, booming out his complacent phrases with Heldentenor bravado.

In this year's Classic FM Gramophone Awards, the Opera award went to DG's recording of "The Excursions of Mr Broucek" . . .

. . . a lovable work it is . . . It all needs the sharp hand and light touch with the agile rhythms which Belohlávek brings to it . . . Jan Vacík gives a lively account of poor Broucek . . . a fresh and attractive portrayal . . . Peter Straka is an elegant Mazal and Petrík, lightly caricaturing his own elegance to send up the posturing Azurean poet . . . 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 contribution from Roman Janál and Zdenek Plech . . .

Janácek's most magical opera comes across with astonishing force in Belohlávek's hands . . . there is the music. The numerous transformations prompt some of Janácek's most luminous orchestral music and the dawn scene at the end of the first part is one of the most magical he ever wrote . . . with careful musical direction the passion and impetus generated can be genuinely thrilling . . . In the right hands, his belief comes across with astonishing force, and nowhere more so than in the hands of Belohlávek. His ear is unerring in balancing the orchestral timbres and moving the music forward, without a sense of hurry, during the various scene changes. There is an effortless sense of ensemble throughout, even though the recording is actually based on a single concert performance. The instrumental playing her is magnificent and the BBC Singers negotiate their often stratospheric lines with raw passion and enviable confidence. The uniformly excellent soloists include some of the finest of today's Czech singers: Jan Vacík is an excellently credible Broucek and Maria Haan is superb in her multiple roles. But what makes the whole performance of this opera so overwhelming is the dramatically convincing way in which the performers interact.

. . . praise for Belohlávek, for the almost entirely Czech cast, and for the superb playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra -- the performance must have been exhaustively if not exhaustingly rehearsed. The recorded sound is excellent, full, absolutely clear and with ideal balance between singers and orchestra. The closing bars of the first act in the 15th century with thunderous organ and bells can only be described as a coup de son. The wide-ranging colour of Janácek's orchestration -- gloriously pungent woodwind -- is unfailingly caught. The libretto of the Moon episode is famously chaotic, but you can just forget the words, sit back and revel in the intoxicating dance rhythms and brilliant orchestral textures. The cast can scarcely be faulted. Jan Vacík's heroically-voiced Broucek is full of character, yet when given the opportunity he sings with delicacy and musicianship . . . [Peter Straka] sings the love music with Maria Haan's Málinka succulently; . . . they enunciate the text with welcome clarity, as do the BBC Singers and the non-Czech singers in small roles . . . a stunning recording.

Jirí Belohlávek is a past master in shaping Janácek's notoriously tricky speech-oriented rhythms, while also carrying off in magnificent style the hair-raising complexity of such episodes as the end of the first moon scene. When the isolated lyrical episodes do occur, they too receive full value. The BBC SO players, spectacular Janácekians on this occasion, surpass themselves in the most sumptuous of Janácek's operatic scores. DG's presentation includes a perceptive programme note and most helpful synopsis.

DG's engineers have achieved a beautiful, clear acoustic, with orchestra and singers in very natural-sounding balance. With a basically native cast in an outstanding orchestra framework, this set takes primacy among recordings of Janácek's nonpareil 1920 work . . . This "Broucek" makes the case for a novelty well worth exploration.

"The Excursions of Mr. Broucek" is a charming romantic comedy with attractive young lovers, a wild satire of artistic pretensions, and a stirring drama of Czech nationalism; all are held together by Janácek's gorgeous music . . . this new DG issue is the choice recording, combining the best virtues of the others with a smooth, gorgeous sound. Conductor Belohlávek does a superb job, giving the BBC forces much of the Czech flavor . . . DG's singers are all first-rate . . . Broucek, also a tenor, is as much an acting role as a singing one; Vacik is a success at both . . . Highly recommended!

Jirí Belohlávek hat das auf der Bühne leider selten zu erlebende Werk mit Leichtigkeit, Verve und einer komplett muttersprachlichen Besetzung aufgenommen. Wunderbar inspirierte Luft von fremd-vertrauten Planeten.

Ein hohes Maß an Authentizität ist auch bei den mitwirkenden Künstlern gegeben. Zwar spielt in diesem Live-Mitschnitt aus London das BBC Symphony Orchestra, aber mit dem großartigen Jirí Belohlávek am Pult hat es sich Janáceks Musik, die von der Sprachmelodie des Tschechischen ihren Ausgang nimmt, voll zu eigen gemacht. Auch bei den Sängern überwiegen tschechische Kräfte, die alleine in der Lage sind, das Idiom richtig zu treffen . . . eine rundum schöne Aufnahme (...), die nicht nur Janácek-Fans wärmstens anempfohlen sei.

. . . mit erstklassigen tschechischen Solisten besetzt . . . Janácek schrieb zu diesem fantastischen Kuddelmuddel eine umwerfend originelle Musik auf der Höhe ihrer Zeit, deren witziger Konversations-Stil auf einen üppig-blühenden Orchesterklang trifft. Dirigent Jiri Belohlavek leitet eine sprühende, temporeiche Aufführung -- es dürfte die Muster-Aufnahme dieser schönen Oper sein.

Auf einer bemerkenswerten CD-Neueinspielung mit den BBC Singers, dem BBC Symphony Orchestra und einem fast ausschliesslich tschechischen . . . Line-up der Sängerinnen und Sänger zeigt der Dirigent Jií Belohlávek eindrücklich, wie das möglich ist.

Jirí Belohlávek entfacht nun in seiner Londoner Live-Aufnahme mit den BBC Singers und dem BBC Symphony Orchestra Farbenzauber und Klangfülle sondergleichen. Die poetischen Vor- und Zwischenspiele und die grotesken Mondpriester-Tänze werden spinnwebfein ziseliert. In den großen Kriegsszenen schichtet Belohlávek die vielen simultanen Klangebenen (Orgel, Chöre, Dudelsack, Glockengeläut) bis zur pathetisch-babylonischen Stimmenverwirrung übereinander. Die Solisten sind in allen wesentlichen Partien Landsleute Janáceks und bürgen somit für eine idiomatisch-souveräne und typengerechte Interpretation. Ihre Lust am komödiantischen Witz der Partitur steckt an . . . man [kann] ohne Übertreibung von einer idealen Einspielung sprechen.

. . . durch das brillante Singen Jan Vaciks (inmitten eines tschechischen Ensembles) wie durch die lyrisch-kraftvolle Darstellung englischer Radio-Kräfte. Geführt von einem Mann aus Prag, der seinen Janácek kennt und liebt. Und ihm alle die vielfältige Facetten zwischen Satire und Pathos garantiert: Jirí Belohlávek. Eine Neueinspielung, . . . die längst fällig war und das skurrile Originalgenie Janáceks glanzvoll zu feiern weiss.

Portée par un immense chef et un trio vocal d'exception, cette réalisation fera . . . référence et devrait permettre ŕ un large public de découvrir ce počme fantasque, illuminé, telle une bande dessinée formidablement sonorisée.

. . . la musique? Du meilleur cru. Avec des troupes britanniques mais un plateau idiomatique, Belohlavek fait des miracles.

    The Excursions of Mr. Brouček

    Janáček's Comic Opera

    Janáček's operatic response to the satires of Svatopluk čech is a tangled tale in its own right. He read čech's novel The True Excursion of Mr. Brouček to the Moon as soon as it was published in 1888, and even reprinted an extract from it in the journal he edited (Hudební Listy). It was almost exactly 20 years later, in March 1908, that Janáček secured the rights from čech's heirs to make an operatic setting, and he began work straight away.

    Janáček's initial plan was for a full-length opera based just on the “Moon" Excursion. For the libretto, he enlisted the help of Karel Mašek but there was soon trouble: by October 1908 Mašek had withdrawn from the project and Janáček was left without a librettist. Meanwhile, the composer Karel Moor (who had just taken up a post as a conductor at the Brno Theatre) was astonished to read a magazine report that Janáček was working on Brouček - Moor had recently negotiated with the Čech heirs to do the same thing himself. Janáček wrote to Moor explaining the he had already written an act of his opera. This was untrue, but was presumably intended to stop Moor in his tracks. Janáček was unsuccessful in this, but Moor's setting of the “Moon" Excursion was an operetta (staged in 1910), quite different from anything Janáček would have composed.

    For Janáček, progress on Brouček was at best sporadic, largely because of problems and disagreements with librettists. But he was determined to make some headway with writing a “comic opera" (the original subtitle he used, later changed several times). After Mašek withdrew, Janáček turned to Dr. Zykmund Janke, a medical doctor with literary aspirations. He delivered a libretto for the first act in December 1908, but any further collaboration with Janke was scuppered by Janáček's introduction of parallels between the characters in the earth and moon scenes - something that isn't to be found in čech's original. Janáček worked alone on the opera for a few months, declaring to his friend Artuš Rektorys at the end of September 1909 that he had “composed Act I four times" mostly using a libretto he wrote himself, which used only a few from Masek and Janke. Early in 1910, Janáček started Act II, writing his own libretto, and this was finished by April 1911. He completed a third act (with some words by František Gellner) in February 1913, and then put Brouček to one side for more than two years.

    It was almost certainly the acceptance of Jenůfa by the Prague National Theatre that encouraged Janáček to look again at Brouček. From October 1915 to October 1916, he asked no fewer than four new collaborators to help revise the text: Josef Peška, who refused; Jiří Mahen, who provided a completely new libretto from which Janáček used only a tiny fragment (and even that was changed later); F.S. Procházka, whose revisions were mostly for the final act; and Viktor Dyk - a fascinating man who was a noted author, translator (especially of Baudelaire and Verlaine), chess player, political activist and later a senator. Dyk's rewriting was much the most useful to Janáček, and it was while they were working together that the structure of the opera was changed, from four acts to two acts with an epilogue. All was going well, until November 1916, when Dyk was arrested for high treason against the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, imprisoned, and sentenced to death (he was released for lack of evidence the following May). Finally, Max Brod took a look at the revised score and suggested some changes to the ending which Janáček adopted. Thus, for the “Moon" Excursion alone, Janáček collaborated with seven other librettists. The work was finished, after almost a decade, in March 1917.

    In 1916, Janáček had found a prospective publisher for his “Burlesque Opera" (as it was now subtitled). The Prague firm of Hudební Matice started to produce proofs of the vocal score, but in 1917 Janáček withdrew the Epilogue that he had originally submitted, and promised a new version “soon". It was never sent, and by December 1917 a different publisher was expressing interest: Drei-Masken-Verlag. Six months later they turned the opera down on the quaint pretext that it had too much “local colour" . . . But by then Janáček was negotiating with Universal Edition in Vienna, for a much more ambitious publication: in the space of a few months, one opera had become two.

    After all the years of trouble over the “Moon" Excursion, the decision Janáček made in March 1917 seems almost masochistic: to compose an entire opera on another Excursion. He told F.S. Procházka that he wanted to write a sequel based on a second satirical story by čech in which Mr. Brouček time-travels back to the 15th century. With this Excursion, things moved at speed - and with just one collaborator - so that on 12 December 1917 Janáček was able to tell his friend Gabriela Horvátová that he had finished the new work. In January 1918, he made a few final changes to what had now become an opera (no longer either “comic" or “burlesque") in two parts comprising both the “Moon" and “15th Century" Excursions. The complete work was first performed at the Prague National Theatre on 23 April 1920, conducted by Otakar Ostrčil.
    Despite its long and tortured genesis, Brouček is one of Janáček's most vibrantly original works - by turns funny, strange, tender and thrilling. The original novels by Svatopluk čech, and Janáček's operatic treatment of them, certainly have their comic moments: the figure of Brouček himself is held up to constant ridicule, as are some of the more ludicrous “arty" types in the “Moon" Excursion. But there is a far more serious side to this work, not least the profound sense of national pride that is particularly apparent in the 15th-century excursion; and the lyric expansiveness of parts of the “Moon" Excursion are surely anything but satirical: the moment Janáček treated something he considered genuine and deeply-felt - be it patriotism or young love - he set it with music of real expressive warmth. The result, as with any great comic opera, is a work that moves us at least as much as it makes us laugh.

    Within a couple of years of completing Brouček, Janáček was to embark on the extraordinary operatic masterpieces of his final years (from Kat'a Kabanová onwards), but Brouček inhabits a glorious musical world of its own: from the extra-terrestrial sounds of the Moon music, to the radiant orchestral interlude - virtually a tone-poem in miniature - which transforms the action back from the Moon to Prague, the Puccini-like romantic octaves of Málinka and Mazal in the closing scene of the “Moon" Excursion, and the stirring patriotism of the Hussite hymns and celebrations during and after the Battle of Prague.

    Nowhere else in his operas does Janáček call for bagpipes, and he uses an organ only in Brouček and in Osud. Here - in one of the mighty climaxes of the 15th-century excursion - these instruments are deployed to magnificent effect, along with bells. The use of the chorus is no less striking, and this is especially apparent in the electrifying choral writing for male voices. In connection with that, it's perhaps worth recalling that one of the lesser-known treasures of Janáček's output is a remarkable clutch of innovative works for unaccompanied male chorus - often setting texts which have a strongly nationalistic subject. The orchestral writing has many of the characteristics of Janáček's later works: high timpani parts, fanfare fragments in the brass used as little musical engines which propel the music along, and woodwind writing which can produce almost impressionistic flickering effects one moment, and hymn-like warmth the next - we hear both in the Interlude during which Mr. Brouček returns from the moon.

    But Brouček inhabits a sound-world all its own: it is probably the most opulently scored of any Janáček opera - and with good reason, since its subject, satirical jibes aside, is a celebration of Czech-ness, composed at a time when independence from the Habsburg Empire was becoming an imperative, and finally, a reality. The festivities after Prague has been liberated in the 15th-century are set to music of a patriotic grandeur unique in Janáček output, and there's no mistaking the heartfelt inspiration behind it. How appropriate, then, that he dedicated the work to the first President of an independent Czechoslovakia: “To the Liberator of the Czech Nation, Dr.T.G. Masaryk".

    Nigel Simeone