JANÁČEK ONLINE: The Genesis and Life of Janáček’s Opera Káťa Kabanová

30 Mar 2020 30 May 2020

The Czech Center New York is bringing our current exhibition online so you can enjoy it from the comfort of your home. We are excited to share the recording of the opening night, a video from the Czech artist Vendula Chalanková, whose art is part of the exhibition, as well as the opening remarks by the curator. Stay tuned for additional on-line content connected to the exhibition!


Michael Beckerman: Czech Music and Infectious Disease via ZOOM May 21 2020

A talk on the impact infectious diseases had on key Czech composers (Leoš Janáček, Bedřich Smetana, Vítězslava Kaprálová) and their music.

April 14, 2020

Cellist Štěpán Filípek talks about Fairytale by Leoš Janáček.

Cellist and composer Štěpán Filípek (* 1981) is considered as one of the leading Czech interpreters of today. He has graduated Cello at the Prague Conservatory and at the Music Faculty of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts. Later he has also graduated Composition at the Brno Conservatory. Štěpán currently lives in Brno, where he is engaged in the Orchestra of the Janáček Opera of the National Theater Brno.


The video from the exhibition opening: The Genesis and Life of Janáček’s Opera Káťa Kabanová

March 12, 2020
Czech Center New York Gallery 

Opening remarks by Michael Beckerman, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music and Collegiate Professor at New York University, and Šárka Zahrádková on behalf of Jiří Zahrádka, the curator of the Janáček Archive of the Department of Music History at the Moravian Museum in Brno and a senior lecturer (docent) at the Institute of Musicology, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University in Brno.

Animated Video + Music Memory Game

Watch the animated video which briefly illustrates Janáček's birth, his arrival to Brno and his days as a student. Created as a cooperation between the artist Vendula Chalánková and the animators Tomoko Lisá and David Lisý.

1) Leoš Janáček. Birth and education

Watch an animated video which briefly illustrates Janáček's birth, his arrival in Brno and his student days. Created in cooperation between the artist Vendula Chalánková and the animators Tomoko Lisá and David Lisý.

Try the online music match game with musical excerpts from Janáček's compositions.

2) Leoš Janáček. How hard he worked

The second animated video created by the animators Oksana Rogožina and Jan Smrčka with the artist Vendula Chalánková shows Janáček's intensive work in Brno, his study of speech melodies, and the trials and tribulations surrounding the staging of his now-famous opera Jenůfa

Play another set of the music memory game, this time you can choose from three levels of difficulty.

3) Leoš Janáček. How he became famous

The third and final animated video created once more by Vendula Chalánková, Oksana Rogožina, and Jan Smrčka. It portrays Janáček's "great old age," the last ten years of his life during which he wrote his major works which are today famous all over the world.

And don't forget to put your musical memory to the test!


Opening Remarks by Jiří Zahrádka (read by Šárka Zahrádková, who walked us through the individual components of the exhibition during the opening on March 12, 2020):

Ladies and gentlemen, 

on behalf of Jiří Zahrádka, who is a leading expert on Leoš Janáček’s life and work, an editor of his compositions, and curator of the Janáček Archive of the Moravian Museum in Brno, let me briefly introduce this exhibition.

First of all, I have to say that these are actually four exhibitions in one, but they all have one thing in common – the composer Leoš Janáček. The most extensive part focuses on Janáček's opera Katya Kabanova for the simple reason that the impetus for this exhibition was the upcoming premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in May this year.

Katya was Janáček's sixth opera and, at the same time, the first that the composer wrote during his peak creative period, which we sometimes call his “great old age.” Those last 10 years of his life were positively influenced by several circumstances. After many long years, Janáček’s work was beginning to enjoy success and recognition on the national and international stage. Then --  following the establishment of the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918  -- the conditions improved for the development of musical life in Brno (a conservatory was established, the National Theatre in Brno offered a high-quality opera ensemble and orchestra, etc.) And -- in Janáček‘s personal life, his friend and muse Kamila Stösslová was a great source of much-needed energy and inspiration --  which was also true for Katya Kabanova, as we can see by quotations such as: "And I always saw you as Káťa Kabanová when I was writing the opera." "I know a wonderful lady, she has bewitched my every thought. My Káťa is growing in her. This composition will be one of my most tender!" So all of these circumstances contributed to Janáček creating his best and most important works during the last ten years of his life.

The world premiere of Katya Kabanova took place in 1921 in Brno, as did all of Janáček's operas, with one exception. However, it was the first to be staged in the prestigious building of the former German Theatre, which passed into the hands of the Czechs after the establishment of Czechoslovakia. The premiere, conducted by the opera director of the National Theatre Brno, František Neumann, was a great success, and Katya Kabanova was also performed on stage abroad during the composer’s lifetime. 

Leoš Janáček is the world's number one Czech opera composer and ranks among the twenty most performed opera composers in the world. Just as Mozart is associated with Salzburg and Wagner with Bayreuth, Janáček belongs to Brno. It is the place where he lived, composed, and thanks to his tireless organizational activities, significantly influenced the musical life and cultural character of the city for many years. His legacy still lives on in Brno to this day, and the city has proudly identified itself with the composer. And this is the topic of the next part of the exhibition, which presents the current activities associated with Janáček in Brno – the Janáček Brno festival, organised by the National Theatre Brno, an educational trail called In the footsteps of Leoš Janáček, and Janáček’s websites, both of which were organized by the Tourist Information Office of Brno, the Janáček Memorial, and the Janáček Archive of the Moravian Museum, which has become part of the UNESCO Memory of the World. Thanks to its numerous other musical activities, Brno as a City of Music has become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

When we started to promote Janáček and his work, we tried to enliven the project with some playful elements which were more accessible to the general public or even children. That is why we started working with Vendula Chalánková, a young Brno textile artist, designer, painter, comics illustrator, and screenwriter. And this brings us to the next section of the exhibition. Vendula Chalánková has been working with us since 2017 on unconventional presentations of Leoš Janáček, such as gift collections with motifs of Janáček and his loved ones, a three-minute animated video about Leoš Janáček, online games, or pictures of characters from Janáček's operas on one of Brno’s trams. When creating her portraits of Janáček and his nearest and dearest, Vendula worked with photographs from the Janáček archive which have been published in this book -- and you can use this edition to compare the photographic templates with their artistic counterparts. There are 9 opera characters -- Janáček wrote a total of 9 operas, so we have 9 portraits. 

And it is through Janáček's operas that we come to the last part of the exhibition - Janáček's work at the Metropolitan Opera. Here we have summarized the history of the staging of Janáček's work on this famous stage, beginning with the premiere of Jenůfa in 1924, which was still during Janáček’s lifetime. So far, four of Janáček's operas have been performed at the Met - Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, The Makropulos Case, and From the House of the Dead. Surprisingly, The Cunning Little Vixen is still waiting to be performed. Although this topic might only seem to consist of boring statistics, there are in fact a number of interesting details; for example, Jenůfa was sung in 1924 by the famous diva Maria Jeritza, who, after a brilliant career at the Vienna Court Opera, was also successful at the Met. However, like Janáček, she was also originally from Moravia and was born Marie Jedličková in Brno. The issue of the libretto translations is also very interesting. Jenůfa was first staged in German, then later in English and then finally in Czech. The Makropulos Case was first performed in English and then later in Czech, while the other two were only sung in Czech. The name Yvetta Synek Graff, a Czech-born promoter of Czech music in the United States, should also be mentioned here. She participated in the translations and assisted in helping the singers with their Czech pronunciation. Katya Kabanova was performed for the first time in 1991, not long after the fall of the communist regime in the then Czechoslovakia. Gabriela Beňačková made her debut at the Met at that time, while Catherine Malfitano and Karita Matilla appeared in later performances. Janáček's third opera on the Met stage was The Makropulos Case in 1996, but the beginning was accompanied by disasters. The premiere had to be cancelled a few minutes after the curtain rose, when the tenor singing the clerk Vítek died on stage after a horrifying fall from a ladder. The second performance had to be cancelled when a blizzard crippled the city. Finally the third performance went ahead with Jessye Norman singing Emilia Marty. Later, Catherine Malfitano and Karita Matilla also appeared in this role. We can say that Karita Matilla is the most experienced Janáček singer at the Met as she has portrayed Jenůfa, Kostelnička, Káťa and Emilia Marty. 

The most recent Janáček opera to be performed at the Met was an excellent co-production of From the House of the Dead in 2009 by director Patrice Chéreau.

I would now like to take this opportunity to thank Peter Clark from the Metropolitan Opera Archives for his cooperation. He kindly provided a lot of photographs from all of the productions and as not all of them could fit in here, you can see them on this screen [part of the exhibition. Ed.] There is another screen in the next room with Leoš Janáček websites - please feel free to browse them, play our online games, and take any of our printed materials.

Finally, I would like to thank the Czech Center New York for its initiative in organizing the Janáček exhibition here and for their wonderful cooperation.

Photos from the Opening Night



Information summary

  • Event title: JANÁČEK ONLINE: The Genesis and Life of Janáček’s Opera Káťa Kabanová
  • Date: 30 Mar 2020 30 May 2020
  • Venue: Czech Center – New York

Similar events