The Diary of an Opera that Disappeared

The Diary of an Opera that Disappeared


norman lebrecht

June 07, 2019

I was at the Linbury at Covent Garden last night to see Ivan van Hove’s staging of Leos Janáček’s song cycle, The Diary of One Who Disappeared.

It was billed to last 90 minutes without an interval.

It lasted, by my watchy, two minutes over an hour.

What happened to the other half-hour?

The show, which has already been seen in Europe and New York, clunks. Hove’s attempt to read Janáček’s late-flowering love for Kamila Stösslová into a farmer’s passing fling with a gypsy fails at almost every count. The composer, so far as we know, never consummated his passion: it functioned as creative fantasy. The farmer, in Van Hove’s version, has nothing but sex between his ears.

The audience, by the way, was overwlemingly septuagenarian.



  • RW2013 says:

    and the singing?
    the piano playing?

  • We privatize your value says:

    But… aren’t you septuagenarian as well, M. Lebrecht, sir? 🙂

  • erich says:

    The whole production was unbelievably pretentious. Musically decent but no more. But the worst thing about it is the deathtrap which the ROH call a theatre. I counted 51 steps down to my seat and 51 steps up to ground level. The knee space is appalling. The rather late middle aged audience would be roasted alive if an incident necessitating evacuation occurred. And don’t get me started on trying to find the loo! The whole thing is an architectural disgrace.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I saw some very elderly patrons who just about made it down, but I doubt they ever manged to get back up.

      • Erich says:

        Are you referring to me (joke!!)? The programme lists a lot of benefactors names linked to that maybe politically correct but utterly misguided ‘open up’ project. I wonder if they like the results of their generous but botched munificence. And on the ground floor, the state of the loos (are they ever cleaned?) and discarded sandwich wrappers and cups has turned the place into a pigsty. All fine and dandy allowing all-day public access, but as a result the general appearance of the place is hardly what one expects of an international house. A shambles.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          I completely agree.

        • Robin Worth says:

          Soon it will be like the Festival Hall and, to a lesser degree , the Barbican : kids using the free wifi, bringing their own food and drink, student get-togethers, meetings ( I once saw a knitting group) You can’t blame them for using the facilities, but the facilities need to be better managed if they are open to the world And those who are paying to see a show should have first call on the seating during the pre-performance period

        • Heini says:

          They are the best free loos in Covent Garden!

    • Hornbill says:

      Your description sounds like the old Linbury. I thought the whole point of the renovation was to solve these problems

  • Ned Keene says:

    Sounds like a deeply crapulous experience 🙁

    Meanwhile Martinu’s great little one-acters – such as Ariane, or Comedy on the Bridge – moulder unperformed as usual. I suppose Martinu doesn’t have the ker-ching quotient of his more visible countryman? But that would require a visionary approach of which the ROH is incapable these days. Let along staging any of Stuart Macrae’s works in Britain 🙁 He didn’t even go to Eton!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The piece by Janacek is hardly an overperformed warhorses. Even his other operas are not performed particularly often; thirty years ago they were almost never performed.

      • Ned Keene says:

        But it isn’t an opera, anyhow. It is a song cycle – for tenor, contralto, women’s semichorus, and piano. There are quite frequent performances of LJ’s more ‘accessible’ works (Jenufa, Vixen, Makropolous, House of the Dead). His other operas (Osud, Start Of A Romance, Sarka, Broucek) have not enjoyed similar popularity – in part, I suppose, because of logistic or libretto reasons. I remain puzzled as to why Katya is so little-performed.

  • Paul says:

    The music to Janacek’s Diary of One Who Disappeared last only about 35 minutes. I hope that was not the only piece on the program.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      You wonder if the people who created the “concept” realised how short it was. In non-musical theatre 90 minute pieces with no interval are very trendy, perhaps they thought they could fit this in the mould?

  • David Leibowitz says:

    any chance to hear Janacek performed live is a gift. and as far as the production…well, that’s why God gave us eyelids…

  • Akutagawa says:

    One of the main reasons why the audience for ROH events in general and Linbury events in particular is so aged is that old rich people on the Friends scheme snaffle up most of the tickets before younger people who would like to go can even get a look-in. Forza del Destino was the most egregious recent example. I logged it at bang on 9am on general booking and there was literally nothing left. Frankly, it’s scandalous that a house in receipt of millions of pounds of subsidy conducts itself like a private members club and merely opens up its cafe facilities to the great unwashed as some kind of third rate sop.