'Osud' was premiered after Janacek's breakthrough opera, 'Jenufa,' which tells you all you need to know about its music. This is prime Janacek. The first act opens with an outburst of joy unmatched, perhaps, in all opera, and one anticipates a neglected masterpiece. But sadly, the story is a catastrophe, it's semi-autobiographical plot line about a tormented composer being incomprehensible. Turning the original Czech into English proves neither hindrance nor help. The whole thing defies understanding, and I found it best -- both in this excellent recording and in a conert prformance in London this summer -- to block out everything but the music.
If one does that, Osud becomes a ravishing experience. Janacek wrote some soaring choral parts in Act I, and the two main characters, the composer Zivny and the woman he wronged, Mila, each have long aria/monologues that are gripping and touching (albeit murky if you try and make sense of them psychologically). As sung by the veteran English tenor Philip Langridge, here hitting his peak, Zivny holds the stage, and sopraono Helen Field is lyrical and moving in the thankless role of Mila. Charles Mackerras conducts with the usual commitment he brings to Janacek -- indeed, we're lucky to have such talent all around.
'Osud,' which means "destiny," deserved its fate, on both counts. It deserved to fail as an opera but to survive as glorious music. I waited a long time before chancing this doomed work and am happy to report what a wonderful listen it turned out to be.