OPERA IBSEN: GHOSTS When Henrik Ibsen finished his Ghosts 140 years ago, theatres in Kristiania, Stockholm and Copenhagen refused to stage the play. The world premiere was held in Chicago. The play is about lies, fear, conventions, bigotry and hypocrisy. Invoking the topic of euthanasia was scandalous at that time, and remains highly controversial to this day. Director Jan Nebeský staged it 30 years ago as his first production of an Ibsen play. His radical interpretation caused a great stir at the Ibsen Festival in Oslo. Having produced seven more Ibsen’s plays, Nebeský returns to Ghosts, now dressed up in a completely different genre. Staging Ibsen as an opera allows for new and unexpected ways of interpreting and understanding this quintessential naturalistic drama. For the first time in its history, JEDL has prepared a ‘big canvas’ in the sense of a large cast and technical difficulty. Ibsen’s drama as musical theatre. Contemporary opera. The collaboration between Jan Nebeský, who has devoted his entire career to Ibsen’s work, and Matouš Hejl, representing the youngest generation of composers, promises a gripping approach to the genre and a significant contribution to the options and forms of musical theatre in the twenty-first century. The opera’s libretto was written by Lucie Trmíková, a scriptwriter and actress who has played six leading female roles in Ibsen’s plays so far. The creative team includes Tine Surel Lange, a Norwegian composer and interdisciplinary artist.
The opera was created for and will be performed as part of the project ‘Play Ibsen! Theatre Play with Accompanying Programme’, funded by a grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in the framework of the EEA Grants 2014–2021. The project was further supported by: Czech Film Fund, Prague City Hall and Czech Ministry of Culture.
A seemingly impossible and risky transformation has been achieved: a classical, naturalistic play made into a piece of music theatre composed of grotesquely exaggerated scenes, where the actors seamlessly navigate from singing to recitatives or conversation and vice versa. No harm has been inflicted on either the point behind the drama or the author, quite the contrary.
(...) Moreover, each character is assigned a specific musical language expressing his or her personality whilst also reflecting the spiritual and symbolic aspects of this Ibsen play. The same can be said of the eccentric costumes, which seemingly transform the characters into objects of art, yet fit in perfectly with the ‘exaggerated’ gestures that are so inherent of expressive, stylised acting. Indeed, one could spot inspiration from Asian theatre or traditional types of Renaissance Italian commedia dell’arte. In general, the first-class ‘operatic’ formula aptly and ironically contrasts with the ordinariness of Ibsen’s characters, and their tragic fates with human mediocrity and narrow-mindedness.
– MARIE RESLOVÁ, aktuálně.cz
JAN NEBESKÝ (1953) A Czech theatre director and teacher. He studied direction at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (DAMU) in Prague. His direction of Ernst Jandl’s Aus der Fremde at Prague’s Theatre on the Balustrade won the Alfréd Radok Award for Best Production of the Year in 2004. Since 2002, when the Komedie Theatre company was dissolved, Jan Nebeský has been freelance, working at the Studio Hrdinů, the National Theatre and other Prague theatres (he also works with the company 420PEOPLE and Studio DAMÚZA, as well as directing at the Dlouhá Theatre and the Palmovka Theatre). In 2004, he started to teach directing at the DAMU Department of Dramatic Theatre. In 2011 he founded JEDL with Lucie Trmíková and David Prachař. Jan Nebeský has an exceptional stage imagination, finding his way to the content of texts with the aid of artistic symbols, absurd shortcuts, and stylised, expressive acting. His productions are formed by a pleiad of unexpected ideas, a specific atmosphere and style. Nebeský’s theatre uses layer upon layer of meaning, runs into free association, combines themes in a collage-like way and works with the set, text and actors with unusual imagination.
JEDL Jan Nebeský, Lucie Trmíková, and David Prachař are artists and friends who, in 2011, founded JEDL as a platform for independent, auteur-style theatre. The company currently profiles itself as an independent, alternative theatre presenting original works. Their production is shaped by collaboration with creatives and performers from diverse fields of art (theatre, dance, music, fine arts). The resulting stagings, thus, combine elements of various genres, creating a novel and distinctive context within the framework of Czech contemporary theatre. Their programming strategy builds on two basic pillars: transcendence – in the sense of crossing boundaries – and experimentation – in the sense of combining diverse forms. JEDL was nominated in six categories in the 2021 Theatre Critics’ Survey, taking home three awards, including the Theatre of the Year Award.