Brian Friel play about composer Janáček receives Czech premiere


Thursday evening sees the premiere of a Czech version of the play Performances by the Irish dramatist Brian Friel. It should be of particular interest to Czech music lovers, as Performances is based on an episode in the life of Leoš Janáček and features one of the last pieces the great composer wrote.

Brian Friel’s Performances reflects on a great passion experienced by Leoš Janáček, who himself appears as a character in the play. The Czech title Listy Důvěrné translates as Intimate Letters, after a string quartet completed by Janáček shortly before his death in 1928. That music features heavily in the first Czech production of Performances, which is directed by Lucie Bělohradská at the National Theatre’s Divadlo Kolowrat.

“At the end of his life Janáček experienced a great love for Mrs Kamila Stoesslová, to whom he wrote countless love letters. Kamila Stoesslová was the inspiration for this great late work, which he wrote during the last 12 years of his life.”

In fact, Janáček is known to have written over 700 letters to the married Stoesslová, though what isn’t known is whether the relationship was ever consummated.

Brian Friel based the play on translations of Janáček’s letters by the composer’s biographer John Tyrell. But, of course, the play’s Czech translators also had the original letters at their disposal. So how close is the Czech play to the English original?

“We made a few corrections; because we had access to more letters, we added some to the play…But I think the Czech version is faithful to Friel’s thoughts. We are absolutely identical to the thoughts, and the words, of Mr Friel.”