Ladislav Klíma’s The Trials and Tribulations of Prince Sternenhoch is one of the weirdest and most eccentric works of modern Czech prose. Thus, many regard turning it into music and drama as an opera – and performing it in Esperanto into the bargain – as simply impossible. Yet that is exactly what composer Ivan Acher, who also wrote the libretto, has achieved. He has adapted the original with exceptional sensitivity, in the fitting setting of the New Stage.
The main character of the phantasmagorical story is Prince Sternenhoch, who marries the mentally disabled Helga, the daughter of a veteran officer. However, she shows no interest and fails to reciprocate his love. He shows fanatical devotion to his wife and has a child with Helga. After the birth, however, she is a changed woman: she confesses to her husband that she detests him and their child, to whom she is equally indifferent. Helga then kills the infant in front of him and forbids Sternenhoch from touching her. Meanwhile, she throws herself into an illicit affair with a brutish lover. When Sternenhoch sees them, he shoots the man and throws Helga into a dungeon, where he leaves her to die. But he starts hallucinating as a consequence. Sternenhoch goes to see the witch Kuhmist to absolve his guilty conscience and dispel the demonic visions…
In staging this bizarre theme, involving nightmares, decadent eroticism and flashes of tender beauty, a traditional musical composition would not work. Acher has therefore gone for an extraordinary fusion of sampled classical music, electronica, and live performance (violin and viola, contrabassoon and zither). The result is truly sensational. The manic scenes are accentuated by thunderous rhythms verging on techno, rock eccentricity and cacophony, against which a wild sextet of dancers performs. Chamber music classics accompany the singing of dreamy tenor Sergej Kostov (Sternenhoch) and the impressive soprano Vanda Šípová (Helga). Besides the central two characters, who give truly fascinating vocal and acting performances that veer between varied to completely contrasting positions, Tereza Marečková as Kuhmist, excels in particular. As well as mezzosoprano, she also plays the violin and viola. The musical and dramatic elements are always central and oscillate between a horror atmosphere and Dadaist playfulness, and costumes that take in a hugely colourful range of designs. The short length of the play, which gives the performance an ability to shock and make an impression, is refreshing. And last but not least, you will be enchanted by the almost lyrical quality in places of the libretto.
The one-act opera is performed in Esperanto, with Czech and English subtitles.