The Miracles of Mary
Performed in the original Czech with Czech and English subtitles.
Four paintings, four parables about sin and forgiveness. “A production with an excellent cast, wonderfully designed, but first and foremost built on an impeccably written and often unconventional opera.
The archangel Gabriel announces the coming of Christ. The wise virgins are eagerly prepared and unquestioning. The foolish virgins are lukewarm in their faith, allowing their lamps to go out and so have to go to buy oil at the very moment Christ arrives… Mariken – a village girl who stays too late in the town, transported by the vision of the shops and their displays. She then gets lost in the dark woods. The devil appears, promising to get her out of the darkness, and offers her all the riches of the world. Mariken succumbs… The Virgin Mary is looking for a place to give birth. Neither inns nor smithies have room for her, and so she ends up in a stable behind the smithy… The nun Paskalina, who dreams of worldly love, leaves her convent and goes to her lover. After much suffering she returns to the cloister, where her place was taken by the Mother of God in her absence.
There are composers whose works are not easily pigeonholed. One of them is clearly the native of Polička, Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959). Each of his operatic works explores new possibilities and in an original and exceptional manner creates bridges between various artistic genres. This is also the case with The Plays of Mary, made up of separate stories involving the Christian concepts of forgiveness of sin and redemption. It is made up of four independent tales, which however – despite the contrasts between them – are linked like the pieces of a masterfully constructed mosaic: “The Wise and Foolish Virgins” (prologue, drama), “Mariken of Nimègue“ (miracle), “The Nativity” (pastoral), “Sister Paskalina” (legend). Despite their diversity in style and origins when linked with Martinů’s compelling forceful music a whole is produced of the great mysteries and strong spiritual witness. The world premiere of The Plays of Mary took place on February 23, 1935, in what is now the Mahen Theatre under the baton of Antonín Balatka and directed by Rudolf Walter. Today this unique work of Bohuslav Martinů is returning after eighty years to the site of its first performance on the theatre stage under the direction of the artistic head of the opera Jiří Heřman. His production was originally created in 2009 as a coproduction project of the National Theatre in Prague and the Opera Wroclawska, and it was received to great acclaim in both theatres.
Janáček Opera Ensemble and Orchestra of the National Theatre Brno
Premiere on 27th March 2015, Janáček Theatre
The Wise and Foolish Virgins
The parable of the virgins awaiting the arrival of the groom. The groom is Christ, whose arrival is announced by the archangel Gabriel. The wise virgins had watched the light in the lamps all night; the foolish virgins had fallen asleep and their lamps were extinguished. The foolish virgins vainly asked the wise virgins for help, and they in turn asked some oil traders. They advised them to seek help from God himself, but he would not listen to their request. The Groom-Christ arrives, he invites the wise virgins to come to him, whilst the foolish virgins are cast aside.
Mariken of Nimègue
The principal announces a new play, a story about a girl called Mariken who had fallen to the temptations of the Devil. Mariken returns from the town where she had been buying provisions. It is getting late and on her way she gets lost in the woods. In desperation, she calls for help and the Devil appears. Mariken, intoxicated by his promises of wealth, love and sensual pleasure, follows him and becomes his partner in his works of destruction. Wherever they go they sow death, discord and sin. After several years they arrive in a town where some wandering actors are performing a Mascaron Play. Against the wishes of the Devil, Mariken goes to see the performance. This play about a dispute between the Devil and Christ on whether a sinner deserves forgiveness or damnation reminds Mariken of her accursed life. She regrets her actions and begs God for forgiveness. The Devil, enraged, kills Mariken, but her soul escapes his clutches.
The Virgin Mary seeks a place to sleep for the night in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. She is rejected by both the innkeeper and the blacksmith, and takes shelter in a barn where she gives birth. In the morning the blacksmith’s daughter arrives; she has no arms, but is miraculously healed when she looks on the child. She runs joyfully home. The blacksmith recognises the person that he had previously rejected, and regrets that he had not provided overnight shelter for the Mother of God. The people gather together and celebrate the birth of Christ.
The convent bell calls the nuns to attend morning mass. Paskalina hears it, but she is unable to rouse herself from her dream as a demon is prolonging the night around her. Spectres and an unknown knight appear to her in her sleep. Paskalina is torn between her love for the knight and the Holy Virgin. She vainly begs for protection and a sign from the Virgin Mary, and when she does not receive this, she succumbs and flees from the monastery with her sweetheart. In the interplay the cast sing a ballad about a girl who was lured by the devil and who was then abducted to Hell. Paskalina travels with her knight around the world, but the devil kills the knight and accuses Paskalina of his murder. She is sentenced to be burned at the stake, but is rescued from the flames by the Virgin Mary. Paskalina finds herself back at the convent gates. Unrecognised by sister Martha she learns that Paskalina had continued to live an exemplary life in the convent. This mystery is then explained by the Mother of God herself when she returns Paskalina’s habit to her. Maria adopts Paskalina’s form and takes her place in the convent. Paskalina dies, reconciled, to the sound of the morning Mass that she had missed all those years ago.