Z mrtvého domu (From the House of the Dead) is Janáček’s last opera, he died before he could finish editing the third/last act of the work. The libretto – written by the composer – is based on Dostoyevsky’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. More diary/reportage than novel, the Memoirs from the House of the Dead was based on Dostoyevsky’s own experiences in a Siberian prison camp.
Janáček stuck to the episodic style of the text (there’s no through-narrative in the opera) and, like Dostoyevsky, focused mainly on individual prisoners telling the story of their crime. The composer himself seemed to feel that it was an uncharacteristically gloomy piece, explaining:
Why do I go into the dark, frozen cells of criminals with the poet of Crime and Punishment? Into the minds of criminals and there I find a spark of God. You will not wipe away the crimes from their brow, but equally you will not extinguish the spark of God.
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