Thursday , February 2 2023
Diary of One Who Disappeared Janacek Ivo van Hove
Photo: "Diary of One Who Disappeared" Muziektheater Transparant By Leoš Janáček Directed by Ivo van Hove PERFORMERS: Wim van der Grijn, Actor; Andrew Dickinson, Tenor; Marie Hamard, Mezzo soprano; Lada Valešová, Piano and Choir: Trio Raphaële Green, Annelies Van Gramberen, Naomi Beeldens Part of 2019 Winter/Spring Season Dress Rehearsal Photographed: Thursday, April 4, 2019; 2:00 PM at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC; Photograph: © 2019 RICHARD TERMINE PHOTO CREDIT - RICHARD TERMINE

Theater/Opera Review (NYC): Ivo van Hove’s Staging of ‘Diary of One Who Disappeared’ by Leoš Janáček

Leoš Janáček’s song cycle Diary of One Who Disappeared deserves to be heard more often. Inspired by his great love for an unattainable woman, the composer took a then-anonymous sequence of poems recounting a sad love affair and set them to some of the sweetest music he ever wrote – melodic, modernist, passionate, always interesting. With two characters (a tenor and a mezzo-soprano) and a three-voice choir, it’s more dimensional than typical song cycles by the likes of Schubert, which are normally performed as pure concert experiences.

That risk-taking director Ivo van Hove should have thought to stage this work isn’t surprising. His production, with additional music (by Annelies Van Parys) and a larger role for the soprano, just paid a brief visit to BAM. The singing was beautiful; tenor Andrew Dickinson and mezzo Marie Hamard brought out the subtleties as well as the conspicuous drama in the music, with sensitive accompaniment by pianist Lada Valešová.

The offstage singers folded their voices into the score with lovely balance and clarity. At the same time, their invisible presence resonates with the modern experience, giving a backwards-anachronistic illusion of electronic effects and the melding of live and recorded sound.

The production itself, though, is a slog. Normally Janáček’s cycle of 22 songs takes 40-odd minutes to perform. Van Hove expands that, but only to just over an hour. Yet the conceptually convoluted staging wheezes glumly by. Set in modern times in a photography studio, it makes generous use of symbolism that’s simultaneously obvious and vague – photos being developed in a darkroom, images shown on an old-fashioned overhead projector. But the main trouble comes from the artificially slow and self-consciously arty blocking, which shouts depth without exploring it.

A few sequences stand out, especially a relatively long aria sung a capella by Hamard as Zefka, the poems’ Gypsy woman. Within the production’s constricted conceptual confines, Hamard brought a cool dignity to the role. Dickinson, with the lion’s share of the vocal burden, managed to convey an ardent lover, in tones that varied from bright to sleek to warm.

As operatic theater this Diary of One Who Disappeared falls short. As an opportunity to hear a great song cycle performed by singers with strength and finesse, I’ll take it.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases in various genres. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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