BWW Review: THE DIARY OF THE ONE WHO DISAPPEARED at BAM
Under the direction of Ivo van Hove, Czech composer's Leos Janacek's song cycle, The Diary of One Who Disappeared, is given a rare performance by Muziektheater Transparant.
The early 20th-century work is set in the sterile industrial European world that the audience has come to expect from Van Hove and his frequent collaborations with designer Jan Versweyveld. As a work of images and music, the piece is a sultry meditation of passion and obsession. As a complicated study of racial fetishizing, the entitlement of infatuated men, or the eroding effect of memory, The Diary of One Who Disappeared doesn't rise to the occasion.
Composed between 1917 and 1920, The Diary of One Who Disappeared is adapted from a series of poems published in Prague's Lidové Noviny newspaper, recounting the infatuation of a young provincial boy with Zefka, a Romany girl. Using these poems as a foundation, Janacek composed multiple works as a way to court Kamila Stösslovà, a married woman who was 40 years younger his junior. Alongside these compositions, the composer would ultimately write more than 700 love letters to Stösslovà, who never returned the composer's affection.
If you, like me, are not charmed by the raving entitlement held by this artist of the interwar period, your issues will most likely be heavily compounded with the piece's lyrical racism. Some works can mature with the times. The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice were both, perhaps, written with racist agendas, yet are so well constructed that contemporary productions can wield them as humanizing personifications. Other works, ballet's Le Corsaire, and music-theatre's The Mikado are, despite their virtues, Sisyphean tasks in rehabilitation. The Diary of One Who Disappeared is abstract enough to live between these two states, but leans towards the latter. I attended this performance with an expert on the Holocaust who watched the work with her mouth agape. She would later tell me, "There was a way to present that narrative." Though, head shaking, conceded, "This wasn't it."
Muziektheater Transparent, van Hove, and dramaturg Krystian Lada attempt to counteract these malignant elements with the introduction of a female voice, beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Marie Hamard. She is the first of the performers to step on stage and sings beautiful original music by composer Annelies Van Parys. Performances are overall powerful, with tenor Andrew Dickinson adding a level of naïveté to the narrator's actions. Actor Wim van der Grijn is a confusing addition but a strong stage presence nonetheless, and Lada Valesova accompanies the work with great depth on piano. These added dramaturgical elements muddy rather than ground the piece for contemporary audiences. Van Hove adds layers of frameworks, mixing ages, points of view, time periods, and adds the element of its male protagonist working as a photographer.
In terms of stage images, these elements, coupled with Versweyveld's beautiful lighting, are beautiful. Though, with the loaded plot and text, what is needed, and sorely missing, is clarity.