Czech composer Janacek began The Diary of One Who Disappeared in August 1917, shortly after his fateful meeting with Kamila Stosslova, a married woman 37 years his junior, with whom he promptly fell in love. She inspired not just this piece but several major operas.
The Diary is a song-cycle employing five singers: the chief soloist is the tenor representing the farmer’s son (sung here by Ed Lyon) who falls in love and eventually disappears with Zefka, a Roma woman (Marie Hamard), who is accompanied by an all-female trio.
It is apparent that Janacek envisaged possible theatrical elements in performance, and over the last few decades there have been various attempts to stage the piece, with Ivo van Hove’s easily the most interventionist so far.
For a start, it’s nearly twice as long as the original, adding several more songs by the contemporary composer Annelies Van Parys, which include spoken text from Janacek’s letters to Kamila and even an extract from his will.
While Van Hove’s intentions are clearly quite different to Janacek’s, none of his additions make a positive impression. Set perhaps in the 1970s, the result shows us an older version of the main character (played by actor Wim van der Grijn) grieving over earlier events: though nothing about Lyon’s dress or the sophisticated stage setting remotely suggests a former farmer’s boy.
The result is frustratingly cold, whereas Janacek’s piece is white hot, and from a musical point of view, this is less than convincingly performed.