The Adventures of Mr Brouček

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Rating: ★★★★☆
It is not difficult to see why performances of The Adventures of Mr Brouček are something of a rarity. The eponymous Brouček is whisked through time, space and circumstance in an opera whose score is at once challenging and beguiling. Scottish Opera’s collaboration with Opera North makes the best possible case for the inclusion of the piece in the modern canon yet this formidable production still leaves one unsurprised that this is only the second time the opera has been seen in Scotland. Indeed, it has been a long time since it was last seen, in an Edinburgh Festival performance in 1970, the premiere of the work in the UK.

Structurally, The Adventures of Mr Brouček barely hang together. In the first half, the consequences of Brouček’s boozing are a trip to the moon and a series of encounters with characters whom he remembers from his bar. In the second, his drinking takes him back in time to 1420 and the Hussite rising in Prague. Again, the characters of Brouček’s alcohol induced fantasy are based on those who inhabit his local. Though he (and we) recognise them, they deny all knowledge of him. Whether on the moon or fifteenth century Prague, Brouček is an outsider, a loner and a stranger.

It is perhaps this sense of alienation that has led John Fulljames to set the bar scenes not in the early twentieth century but in 1968. That clever choice of date is a clear attempt to link the two disparate stories together. The setting takes us to a time just before the moon landings and just at the time of the Russian intervention in what was then Czechoslovakia. The lunar fantasy of Act I can only make what sense it does, if it takes place before anyone on earth had the images of the moon landings fixed for good in the imagination. Meanwhile, we were encouraged to see the Hussite rebellion of Act II within the context of the ongoing struggle of the Czech nation which reached such a defining point in 1968.

All these changes in scene give much for a creative team to work on. Particularly striking throughout the evening was the use of both the projected video work of Finn Ross and the accomplished and striking lighting design of Lucy Carter. The video located the work in the 1960s and was by turn whimsical and unexpectedly beautiful. [Read more…]