Opera North Blog

Osud (Destiny) in a nutshell


Everything you need to know about Osud (Destiny) in one place – right here!

What is the story? 

Osud (Czech for Destiny, or Fate) is a semi-autobiographical tale told in three cinematic acts that unfold over two decades. Míla and the composer Živný are in love, but Míla’s mother thwarts the affair. Five years later they are reunited and living together but as Živný wrestles with the opera he is writing and the mundanity of everyday married life kicks in, a tragedy occurs that changes everything – Míla’s mother, now mentally unable, drags herself and her daughter to their deaths.

After many years, Živný’s opera, which tells of the tragedy, is to be premiered. He explains the plot to his students, and it becomes clear that the fiction is based on his own life story…

Part of our season of short operas with huge emotions, Osud is a thriller, full of intense drama, and will send you hurtling on a real rollercoaster. 

For a full synopsis, visit the Osud webpage >> The Story

Who are the characters? 

Živný, a composer  (tenor)
Míla Valková, his lover (soprano)
Míla’s mother (mezzo-soprano)
Dr. Suda, a rival composer (tenor)
Lhotský (baritone)
Konečký (bass)
Miss Stuhlá, a school teacher (mezzo-soprano)

There are many other smaller characters, including a chorus of schoolmistresses and guests at the spa in Act I and students at the Conservatoire in Act III – all taken on by the Chorus of Opera North. We also meet Míla and Živný’s son, Doubek, both as a small child and a young man.

What is the music like? 

Osud is packed with thrilling and extremely dramatic music. The orchestral writing is extraordinary – often huge, and full of glowing lyricism. Listen out for the enormous orchestral waltz which opens the piece in a euphoric whirling, evoking the bustling warmth and vivacity of the spa town. In true Janáček style, the vocal line is mostly what he called ‘speech melody’ – an effort to create in music the ‘melodic curves and contours of human speech’.  

The music is also experimental, full of new harmonic, rhythmic and instrumental possibilities – sometimes there are multiple rhythms going on at the same time, and extreme ranges of the instruments are used. There is quite a lot of piano used (especially when the character of Živný is intended to be actually playing the piano) which is unusual. An opera within an opera, Osud allows Janáček to create a different sound world when ‘quoting’ fragments from his protagonist Živný’s piece! These sections are often more specifically melodious – see if you can identify them. 

To listen to more musical extracts, visit the Osud webpage >> Gallery >> Audio.

What is this production like? 

Annabel Arden’s new production of Janáček's Osud (Destiny) begins in 1940s Czechoslovakia – 'the present' – in which music professor Živný is invigilating an exam. He sits at the dilapidated upright piano, opens the score to his own opera, and we travel back in time for Act I – a glamorous spa town (think 1930s Adriatic riviera, with everyone all in white) complete with garlands and ribbons suspended over the stage. 

By the time we arrive back at Živný’s conservatoire for Act III, a new order has come to power and is dominating. The student hall is now bedecked with communist symbols, imagery and propaganda, and Živný (from the old order, with old values) is made to feel a relic. Look out for some serious thunder and lightning effects in the storm scene! 

Who was the composer? 

Osud was written by Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928). He was something of a late bloomer – this short opera was composed in 1903-7 around the age of 50, before Janáček was widely known on the international stage!  

At this point, he had already completed his opera Jenůfa, but it wasn’t until many years later – in 1916 and via a very tenacious campaign by Janáček’s supporters – that this piece became recognized and his career truly launched. In the creative excitement that followed, Osud sadly fell into oblivion.  

Although Janáček’s is now regarded as one of the most important Czech composers of all time and his work regularly performed in the opera house, Osud remains a bit of a hidden gem. Seize your chance to experience a genuine rarity!

Did you know? 

  • Osud was not performed on the stage until 1958, 30 years after Janáček’s death, as part of a festival to commemorate the composer. Two opera houses rejected the score during his lifetime. They missed out…  
  • The inspiration for Osud came from Janáček’s visit to a spa, where he met and became infatuated with a woman named Kamila Urválková. Kamila had already been the subject of an opera by another composer, Ludvík Čelanský, but felt that Čelanský had depicted her unflatteringly, and asked Janáček to write another opera to counteract this! So in Act I of Osud, we see the composer Živný meet Mila at a spa, and in Act II, we hear Míla’s unhappiness with Živný’s opera, and the way in which she is portrayed in it! Meta opera, anyone?  
  • Each production of Osud has had a different structure. In some, the three acts have been re-jigged so that the story is told entirely in ‘flashback’ – beginning with Act III. However, it is the fact that the story covers and unravels a period of 15-20 years, without one fixed point in time from which we can look back, which makes is so interesting! In our production, we begin in the present, travel back in Živný’s memory for Act I, forward five years to Act II, and then leap forward to the present for Act III…

Osud is sung in English translation with English titles, and lasts approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. For more info or to book tickets, visit the Osud webpage. Join in on social media with #ONOsud and #LittleGreats.

In a nutshell is a blog series devised by Opera North.

Osud 2017. Credit: Alastair Muir
Leoš Janáček

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