A surprising end to the theatre season – Brno’s Don Juan
Vítězslav Sladký 30. October 2014 zdroj www.musical-opereta.cz
The dramaturges at Brno City Theatre have long sought to accompany the “international megahit musicals” on their repertoire with original Czech productions authored at the theatre. Without this inventive approach, Music Theatre visitors would have missed out on a great many exceptional productions, such as Garden of Miracles, Nanu, Odysseus, Inferno, Markéta Lazarová, Singoalla, Mucha’s Epopee and Wild Bára. This year, the repertoire was extended to include the narrative musical Don Juan, written by the musician Vašo Patejdl, scriptwriter Ivan Hubač, lyricist Eduard Krečmar and producer Martin Hrdinka. This production, which perhaps many didn’t expect much from, was a very pleasant surprise that seems to be the wild card of this year’s musical season.
Once could say – why Don Juan, of all things? Hasn’t this “punished rake” already been dealt with by so many authors? Even Mozart himself had a go, with his “opera of operas”, Don Giovanni. The new musical doesn’t compete with its famous predecessors, instead offering a new look at the well-known theme, telling the popular story in an engaging, nimble and intelligible fashion, which to a great extent is thanks to the dramaturge Klára Latzková and the director and author of the adaptation Peter Gazdík, who has made marked changes to the original libretto in order to render it more suitable as a theatre production. They have avoided moving the setting to somewhere on the city outskirts, to a gypsy ghetto or a factory hall, which today is something that one might expect, with horror, to happen. They have left it set in 17th century Seville, and it offers theatregoers exactly what they expect from a production like this: a well-known story, pleasant songs, an attractive set, a precisely balanced portion of romance and drama, and most of all a large pinch of humour – and everything very nicely done.
There is a musical link between Don Juan and Vašo Patejdl’s previous successful musicals, in particular Adam Šangal and Jack the Ripper. The central theme of this new work actually refers to Jack via its motif. The inventive and highly memorable compositions for a large orchestra were skilfully arranged by Karel Cón and Martin Wiesner, who in combination with conductors Dan Kalousek and Jakub Žídek showed once again how important the music is to a musical, and also the vast difference between a live musical accompaniment and a recording. I consider their contribution as having been absolutely essential to the success of the production. The texts, which are of traditionally high quality, were written by Eduard Krečmar – his verses are music to one’s ear, they avoid simple naivety and keep the tempo and rhythm going - what more could one wish for? Petr Gazdík´s direction takes inspiration from the European musical tradition in the best sense of the word – he gave the production order, tension and style - the first act in particular is a great show which can easily compete with better known titles. Also, Lucie Holánková filled out the choreography with appealing dancing as well as many original movement elements. Petr Hloušek´s inventive set changes constantly and contributes to the tension on stage, and Eliška Ondráčková´s costumes are similarly great - the dresses she’s designed for the leading ladies are almost wastefully grand.
The premiere audience saw Dušan Vitázek, who has played a whole host of similar characters on the Brno stage, in the title role (Petr Gazdík alternates), and he’s every inch a ladykiller. He’s a charismatic actor who both sings and acts confidently, though I had the feeling that his Czech was better in his many previous performances. The most rewarding character from the acting point of view is the servant, Sganarelle, whose creators have given him a multitude of comic moments, placing his character somewhere between the devoted Sancho Panza, wily Truffaldino and a calculating barber. Jakub Uličník was great in the role, giving one of the best performances of the premiere evening. One minute his Sganarelle is being comically foolish, the next he is philosophising, or acting in his best self-interest. He sings, acts and dances excellently. Viktória Matušovová also shone in her role - the voluptuous redhead is absolutely the best woman to play Feliciana. A versatile talent we’re going to hear a lot more of. However, neither Ivana Vaňková (inquisition-tried Isabella and subsequently the nun Elvira) nor Jiří Mach (bewitching Flavio), cute Marta Matějová (Petronila) or the distinctive actress Alena Antalová (Clara) remained in the background. The roles of Juan and Feliciana’s fathers were performed with noblesse by Miloslav Čížek and Martin Havelka. Barbora Remišová drew attention with her extraordinary performance in the role of the almost comically lustful Luisa. Other actors in roles large and small, and indeed the whole company, deserve praise – everything went as it should, at a stunning musical and dance tempo.
Not long before I went to see the premiere of Don Juan, I made a complaint at a certain theatre company that I hadn´t seen anything “nice” for a long time at the theatre. A piece which wouldn´t force me to think for three hours, a production whose setting wouldn’t be shifted in time or place by its creators for no deep or meaningful reason. But also a professional and inventive bit of theatre. Brno´s Don Juan fulfilled my expectations for a good musical title and perhaps exceeded them in many respects. As for the spectators, it also provides an alternative for more conservative operagoers who are often annoyed by the directorial excesses which are all the rage at the moment. A non-archaic but nice production which pleases one´s soul.
A successful world premiere at Brno City Theatre
Jaroslav Štěpaník 30. October 2014 zdroj www.brnozurnal.cz
The character of Don Juan, free-thinker, blasphemer, romantic and cynic – and most of all womanizer - has become a synonym for a breaker of women´s hearts. His story, as Brno City Theatre’s written documentation says, “is crying out for a musical adaptation”, and one can scarcely object to this claim. It can be said right at the beginning that the management of the theatre and its ensemble deserve to share in the success that is Don Juan with the team of authors who have given this “eternal” story the form of a contemporary musical. They pulled it off! Quite a few world premieres take place on Czech theatre stages, but only a few works get beyond the borders of the republic, or even beyond the walls of the place where they were first performed. Brno´s Don Juan will undoubtedly step beyond Brno’s city walls and it is likely that it will get even further. If it were in English, it would have a greater chance.
Though a seemingly simple task, it isn´t easy to write a good musical. The creative authorial team needs to bring together members who understand one another and can combine music, dramatic text as well as verse into one solid whole in such a way that it can address a wide range of spectators and listeners. The renowned team which gave rise to Don Juan doesn´t need a detailed introduction: author of music: Vašo Patejdl; song texts: Eduard Krečmar; libretto: Ivan Hubač; producer: Martin Hrdinka.
From the very beginning, from the first introductory dance performances, the production grabs spectators´ attention with its rapid rhythm, and with the sensitively balanced music which resonates with the plot and text and has what matters most in a good musical: catchy and memorable melodies. The song texts are excellent - many of them could even hold their own as successful pieces outside the context of the production itself.
The libretto presents a somewhat different Don Juan to the one you may know. While keeping the period set pieces, the story leaves the traditional “mythical atmosphere” behind, focusing more on the psychology of the main protagonist, and bringing it closer to the worldviews of contemporary spectators. This leads to a relatively substantial but functional correction and change to the “usual” conception of the plot. Juan´s promiscuity is explained by an emotional letdown which is basically fictitious, as the spectators assume. After all, the emotional outburst which comes later brings disappointment once again, in the form of “true love” unfulfilled as a result of a tragic death. The audience can only guess as to whether Juan would have married the “love of his life” and lived together with her and a heap of children till death did them part or whether he would have found out in the morning that even she wasn´t the right one either. Don Juan isn´t a romantic character here, unlike the erstwhile idol that is G. Philipe’s Fanfan - he is more of a contemporary sexual outlaw driven by the need to conquer territories and satisfy his desires. The romantic side of his nature is maintained in the perceptions of his female counterparts, who are enchanted by Juan´s ability to become unpretentiously consumed by passion and persuade them of the strength and trueness of his feelings which, however, vanish in the morning. Women pass through his arms somewhat like sexual mannequins. The plot of the musical is easy to understand and is presented in a simple way, without unnecessary diversions. The music and the texts proceed to the dramatic climax dynamically, with some artistic licence taken with regard to the length and content of the piece. I don´t know how much the authors have crossed out or cut - however, the density of the piece suggests that they resisted the temptation to use all that was written, and that sacrifices were made even when something was actually good but would slow down the pace of the plot if used. It has resulted in a performance of a decent length which won´t tire spectators by drawing things out unnecessarily, allowing them to watch the play in a single breath without wriggling in their seats.
Of course, a musical cannot live without an excellent ensemble but Brno City Theatre certainly has such a thing!
The audience was somewhat “shy” at the pre-premiere performance (16. 7. 2014), applauding the actors sporadically and hesitantly during the performance. However, the final applause was already spontaneous, with the crowd up on their feet. Don Juan was popular with its first spectators.
Petr Gazdík played the main protagonist and deserves a double helping of praise, both for his well-mastered role and for the successful direction of the whole production. Tomáš Sagher is great in the traditional complementary role of the servant who balances out the plot as well as his self-contradictory master. As far as the male roles are concerned, I would also like to draw attention to the traditionally excellent Ladislav Kolář. His song about sons has one of those melodies and texts which most appeals to spectators and gets into their memory easily. Women have somewhat fewer opportunities in Don Juan, as they basically just pass through his arms at a rapid pace. The most chances to shine are found in the role, or rather double role, of the “femme fatale” (perhaps she only seemed like that, though), who was played by Svetlana Janotová. She was brilliant, but also all those un-named here and the whole ensemble deserve praise for a good performance, including the musicians and everybody who took part in preparing the production.
As V. Patejdl, the author of the music, said, the musical Don Juan was offered to several places. His cooperation with Brno City Theatre came off thanks to its excellent ensemble and also the fact that Brno’s Music Theatre was the only one to guarantee the performance would take place with live music. The cooperation between the authorial and realisation team was successful. Don Juan (world premiere on 17th May in Brno) has got what it takes to attract spectators even outside our republic.
Prague´s Don Juan received standing ovations in Brno
Miroslav Homola 18. May 2014 zdroj www.novinky.cz
Excited applause and standing ovations. This is how the world premiere of the most recent version of the story of the legendary seducer, lover and perhaps also sexual pervert known as Don Juan ended on Saturday night.
However, the success of this tragic story of insatiable desire and sexuality was to be expected. The creation of this production at the tried-and-tested workshop of Prague musical authors Ivan Hubač and Vašo Patejdl (who is Slovak but lives and works in Prague) took about seven years. The texts for the songs were written by the already legendary Eduard Krečmar, and Martin Hrdinka was in charge of the production.
In order that this quartet could be sufficiently sure of obtaining a professional production, they went to Brno City Theatre, which is considered to be a school for the modern Czech musical, to select a director and acting, musical and technical team for the premiere as well as the following repeat performances.
“We wanted to go to Brno with Don Juan a lot. In fact, most people in musical creation here would like to show their productions at Brno City Theatre, but not all of them admit it openly. We were really glad we made an agreement with the local director Stanislav Moša and that we got on so well with the director of the production, Petr Gazdík,” Hrdinka told Novinky after the performance.
According to the creators, Patejdl and Hubač, the greatest asset of the performance was the balance between the plot, music, dancing and singing, which is the greatest problem musical authors face most frequently.
“It always takes great skill to combine all these elements together in such a way that none of them disturbs or dominates any of the others. And I think that this was successful here,” Hubač said. But not everything was so problem-free, Patejdl explained.
Arrangements over the phone
“We only knew Petr Gazdík from a distance at the start, and mainly through his work. We discussed our cooperation over the phone at first. Petr was tied up with his work at that time and we just didn´t have time to meet each other in person. However, we soon found a common language and things began to work out. The local theatre orchestra deserves great respect and thanks. Others can be envious of such an ensemble. I hope that the spectators who come to see the show will also be able to discern the presence of this understanding,” Patejdl remarked after the performance.
Musicians such as Jožo Ráž, Bohuš Matuš and Richard Tesařík came to touch glasses with “old Krečmar”, as the doyen of Czech text writers is known. Fashion designer Beata Rajská, actor and director Ondřej Kepka and many other personalities were also among the guests.