Stage director Frank Castorf “might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead” (Opera Today). His gritty, visually striking adaptation brings bold modern and postmodern touches to Janáček’s masterwork without ever overshadowing the intense forward momentum of the music, conducted to dramatic perfection by Simone Young and sung by an all-star cast in Munich.
Janáček adapted Dostoevsky for this powerfully compelling opera set in a Siberian prison camp, full of starkly contrasting moods and motifs, unusual in its episodic structure. The last opera Janáček ever composed, its third act was on his desk when he died in 1928; attempts by his students to “complete” his orchestration have largely fallen away over the decades in favor of the original version. Despite the grimness of the setting and the brutality of several characters, the composer’s compassion shines through in tender moments, movingly illustrating his motto for the work: “in every creature, a spark of God.”