I had seen several Warlikowski productions across Europe and it was a bit of a surprise that this From the House of the Dead was his house debut at the Royal Opera House. Too modern for UK conservative taste in opera? Anyway this was a safe bet as the production is not radical in any way. It was, however, intense and very demanding. As Leoš Janáček music is not easy listening, Krzysztof Warlikowski staging is not easy to see, as many things are happening on the stage and require a lot of focus to get all the details.

I still have problems with the London opera audience laughing loud in inappropriate moments. This night they did it again when the opera opens without music, showing a basketball court in a prison and a single prisoner playing. That pretty much ruined the experience of feeling how even surrounded by equals one can fell lonely.

Action is placed in the mentioned gym with the addition of a box-in-stage (as in his Paris Don Carlos) for the prison office. There is no typical konzept parallel storytelling but further development the characters story when the remain on the background. The “spark of God” in the original Janáček intentions is overlapped by a more general reflection around the justice and freedom, supported by video projections of Michel Foucault interviews.

The cast was outstanding, with superb singing by Nicky Spence, Willard W. White, Ladislav Elgr and Štefan Margita.

Major disappointment, came from the pit. The orchestra sounded rigid, like having hard time to adjust to Janáček musical textures and some bogus playing from the metals. Mark Wigglesworth conducting was accurate but lacked of unity. He presented the music as series of individual disjointed musical units. In general, not bad, but not brilliant.

What a pity having lost Teodor Currentzis as musical director for this production. He would have taken for sure a more radical approach with either brilliant or disastrous results. And opera is about risks.