Most of Janacek's operas are on the succinct side; his last four don't have a running time longer than 90 minutes. So ENO is presenting Janacek's last opera, From the House of the Dead alongside a curtain-raiser of Turnage's Twice Through the Heart, a 30-minute monodrama about a woman's tragic life which seems to compliment Janacek's dark work in terms of a number of overlapping themes.
Based on the novel by Dostoyevsky, From the House of the Dead takes place in a Siberian prison camp. With a text consisting of poems by Jackie Ray, Twice Through the Heart has a contemporary urban setting, though the mundane terror of domestic oppression means that the woman involved lives a life of sinister incarceration every bit as oppressive and chilling as Janacek's Siberia.
How did the current innovative piece of programming come about? "I'm ENO's Composer in Association," says Mark-Antony Turnage, "and Twice Through the Heart and its companion piece, my one-act opera The Country of the Blind, originated in ENO's Contemporary Opera Studio. Earlier this year, both pieces had their premiere at Aldeburgh and were subsequently presented at the South Bank. I thought that would be that with them, at least for the time being, but ENO's new music director Paul Daniel suggested that Twice Through the Heart could be done again alongside the Janacek. Of course, I'm honoured and thrilled."
And apprehensive, too? "Slightly," says the composer. "The work is a monodrama, so mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley (pictured above right) is going to have to fill the vast Coliseum stage on her own, though she seems to be rising to that challenge. Plus it's scored for chamber orchestra so everything will have to be projected out and played big. At the same time, I'm sure it can and will work and the comparisons and contrasts with the Janacek make the whole venture very intriguing." And how does Turnage feel about being presented alongside Janacek? "Totally terrified," he says, modestly. "Janacek is a composer I greatly admire and House is a masterpiece. How can one follow that? Luckily, of course, I'm on first..."
English National Opera's productions of Mark-Antony Turnage's `Twice Through the Heart' and Janacek's `From the House of the Dead' are at the Coliseum (0171-6328300), St Martin's Lane, WC2 from Mon 20 Oct at 7.30pm