When it comes to recordings, this is the least-favoured of Leos Janacek's operas: The Excursions Of Mr Broucek. It's effectively two dramas, and two Excursions: one to the moon, one to 15th century Prague!Janacek's operatic reactions to the satirical stories of Svatopluk Cech, which due to various disagreements with librettists, took the composer nine years to complete. So where does it fit? Between Jenufa, and the finale great operatic flowering that began with Katya Kabanova - but Broucek's Excursions are unlike anything that came before or since; comic, yes, but also serious, patriotic, and often wonderfully scored.
Broucek doesn't seem to get out much, either onstage or on disc. It's missing from the Decca cycle of Janacek operas conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, and this new one is a first for two reasons: it's the first digital recording, and also the first account on disc of a new edition of the opera made by Janacek authority Jiri Zahradka!both of which probably make this a compulsory purchase for committed Janacek-ians. But there's another reason to take it seriously; the recording was made live at the Barbican in February 2007, and if you read the reviews at the time, or heard the broadcast on BBC Radio 3, you'll have gathered that something special happened. It comes across on the CDs as well: Jiri Belohlavek conducting the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra, and an almost entirely Czech cast who throw themselves into their roles with vitality, and understanding. Broucek is sung by Jan Vacik, and after his drunken proposal to his tenant's girlfriend, and beer-fuelled flight of fantasy, Vacik is a delicious foil to the lunar luvvies, horrifying them with his enthusiasm for sausage, beer and dumplings rather than high art and flower-sniffing. Belohlavek's handling of Janacek's gorgeous Interlude as Broucek returns to earth is as magical as it ought to be.
In the second part, to his horror, an earthbound Broucek is transported to the past, caught up in the battle for 15th century Prague: Hussite hymns and heroism, plus bagpipes and an organ adding an edge to the orchestration. Here's heartfelt patriotism, and a celebratory setting of real grandeur from Janacek, and it's greatly to everyone's credit that it doesn't feel like a concert performance.
This may not be the last recorded word on Broucek, but right now it sounds like a major improvement on what we've had before: the strength and depth of the cast, and most of all the sound quality, and Belohlavek's feel for the tenderness, humour and romance of one of Janacek's least appreciated, yet most original dramas. --Andrew McGregor
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