Julietta (The key to Dreams)
- lyric opera in 3 acts

Czech title: JULIETTE (SNÁŘ)
Czech subtitle: lyrická opera o 3 dějstvích
English title: Julietta (The key to Dreams)
English subtitle: lyric opera in 3 acts
German title: Juliette
German subtitle: lyrische Oper in drei Aufzügen
French title: Juliette (La clé des songes)
French subtitle:
Category: Stage Works and Film Music - Operas
Halbreich number: 253
Parts (movements):
Durata: 146' (45´+ 61+ 40´)
Place of composition: Paris
Date of composition: 1937
Performing forces: 3322-4331-timp.+batt.-cmp.-pf.-archi, fisarmon
Solo voice 1:
Solo voice 2:
Solo roles: Juliette (S), Michel (T), commissar (T), man with helmet (Bt), man in the window (B), small Arab (mS nebo A), old Arab (B), other 5 mS, 1 A, 2 T, 2 Bt, 4 B, 1 speaking-role, mixed choir
Dedication: Václav Talich
Performer(s) of premiere: Václav Talich (dir./cond.), J. Honzl (režie/direc.), František Muzika (scéna/scen.), Joe Jen?ik (choreografie), O. Horáková (Jul
Premiere: 16.3.1938
Place of premiere: Praha, Národní divadlo
Manuscript info
Archive: Praha
Institution: archiv Národního divadla v Praze
Country: Česká republika/Czech republic
Publication info
Place of publication: Praha
Publisher: Melantrich
Year of first publication: 1947
Copyright: Dilia, Prague
Manuscript copy
Manuscript copy type:
Comment on copy:
Comment on manuscript: Piano score in the Centre of Bohuslav Martinů in Polička.
Dedication Note:
Note: Lyrics by Bohuslav Martinů after Georges Neveaux, french translation B. Martinů, german translation L. Kaufmann, new version of text A. Březina, D. Bernet, english translation G. Thomsen, W. Schmolka, D. Poutney.
Info - English: Juliette or a Dream-book

Juliette or a Dream-book

On March 16, 1938, at the National Theatre opera in Prague, the evening performance was about to begin. After the introductory suggestive tones, full of unrest, the curtain went up and a very unusual production followed. It was the first time that the music was played in public at the premiere of an opera by a Czech composer who had been living abroad for a number of years. The author, Bohuslav Martinů, was sitting with his French wife, Charlotte, in the dark of the auditorium, excited more than ever before. For him, the premiere had a special significance, for it was the first time that he was offering the public a full-length opera, the orchestral component of which was of a truly symphonic concept; and it was also the first work in which he treated an untraditional theme of a surrealistic tone, far removed from what was usually seen at an opera. Next to Martinů sat a man of restless temperament, always overflowing with ideas and witty remarks and full of kindness. He was Georges Neveux, a playwright well-known in Prague because some of his plays had already been staged here. Martinů had written the libretto for his new opera Juliette or a Dream-book based on his play. The play itself had already been staged in Prague, within a relatively very short time after its Paris premiere in 1930.

Years later, Georges Neveux (1900-1983) remembered the occasion: "I will never forget my first meeting with Martinů. He was a famous composer by then. Darius Milhaud spoke to me about him as one of the greatest musicians of our time. I therefore expected a celebrity but was quite surprised to see in front of me a man of modesty so sincere which I had never encountered before. He was a tall, slim, discreet person and what surprised you immediately was his look and his voice. It was a bit slow, singing, and his French had a charming Czech accent.

"I think that the feeling of sympathy I experienced was reciprocal. The sensitiveness discernible behind his apparent calm, his peculiar charm and his simplicity - all originated in his homeland."

Martinů had sent a letter to Neveux in June 1936: "I have read your play Juliette or a Dream-book again and without actually knowing how I set the first act to music." Georges Neveux came to visit. Martinů, a native from a region on the border between Bohemia and Moravia (b. Dec. 8, 1890 in Polička), was living in Paris from autumn 1923; he had originally arrived on a scholarship to study under Albert Roussel, but remained until the fall of Paris (with the course of events driving him to the United States) and never returned to his homeland after 1938. "He lived in a quiet district overlooking the lake in Parc Montsouris. He expected me. I was glad and at the same time somewhat worried. I was glad because he had liked my play, and I was worried because a couple of days before I had received a letter from an agent of Kurt Weill, the composer of The Threepenny Opera, informing me about the latter's intention and asking for permission to make Juliette a musical comedy. I had preliminarily consented and was about to tell Martinů that my play was not available. I, however, didn't have the courage to mention it at our first meeting. At midnight, descending the staircase, I was profoundly moved. I had, for the first time in my life, truly entered the world of Juliette. Martinů's liking for the play was obvious, and he enhanced its charm and depth, making a masterpiece of it - I was literally dazzled by it. On the following day, I wrote to Kurt Weill's American agent to tell him that there was a misunderstanding and that my play was not available...". Prague received the opera with enthusiastic acclaim. The main part was sung by Ota Horáková, a beautiful diva with a superb voice, and the orchestra was conducted by Václav Talich, at his best. As a matter of fact, Martinů had explicitly asked him to perform the task ("I am preparing a new opera... a sort of bizarre dream in fact... the orchestral part is very developed and you could derive pleasure from playing it with the orchestra. It is quite difficult and there's nobody else I could entrust with it" he wrote from Paris on June 12, 1936). The production was directed by Jindřich Honzl, and the stage design was the work of one of the leading 20th-century Czech painters, František Muzika. He was so impressed by the work of this unique premiere that he later painted a whole series of pictures inspired by Juliette's dreamy world. He was, as a matter of fact, predetermined for the job, thanks to his inborn inclination to the limitless world of imagination. Talich, on his part, later summed up his feelings, speaking on behalf of all the other performers: "We had an ensemble here working in enthusiastic unity in a noble effort to pay tribute to the author and his work. In this exceptionally friendly atmosphere we jointly achieved an unusual result which will undoubtedly remain one of the most pleasant experiences of my activity in the field of opera."

Both the first-night audience and the critics in Prague's daily press highly praised the work. The situation was very favourable then to the acceptance of the new work which, however, contained some provocative elements, and the production of which was not without risk. The theme of the play had been received with some hesitation on the occasion of its Paris premiere (Theatre de l'Avenue, 1930). It was not different when the play was staged in Prague. One of the greatest Czech actors of that time, Eduard Kohout, wrote that he was irritated by the fact that, by order from higher places claiming that the play was not intelligible, director Frejka had to have a bed placed on the stage "and me lying in it, for everybody to understand that whatever was happening was Michel's dream, which actually made the final revelation lose half of its impact made with the audience only slowly realizing that it was a dream ...".

Martinů not only put Juliette to music, he dealt with it in a literary way in an introduction to the piano reduction which contained some interesting ideas. The people in Juliette are without memory. "The world is present only at a given moment, which is replaced by the next, and everything is rushing forth into a void. It is in fact a psychological problem and a very old human problem indeed: What is a man and what am I, what are you, and what is truth?" In the centre of the opera there is Michel, the only one who has preserved the ability to retain memories and to act and think logically in line with his convictions. "The whole play is a desperate effort in search of something stable, concrete, on which one could rely, memory, conscience, which is undermined at every moment, transformed into tragic situations, in which Michel fights to maintain his own stability and preserve his common sense. Should he fail, he would have to remain in this world without memory and without time forever." Putting the theme to music quite unexpectedly accentuated a new feature: Michel's longing for Juliette, his search for her lost song, the love for the constantly escaping girl of unpredictable reactions, self-will--all this resounded with an intensity of expression which only music can give to an emotional context. For Bohuslav Martinů the motifs of the opera became motifs of his own search. It never disappeared from his mind. After he left Europe with his wife and began a new, "American" chapter of his creative endeavours, characterized above all by a number of symphonies, Juliette echoed in his thoughts as if he wanted, like Michel, to recall the living past. In 1947, he thought about it when writing an introduction to its piano reduction. In 1953, he finished his most famous symphony - Fantaisies symphoniques - and had this to remark: "It is a small fancy of mine that I quoted here several bars from another of my compositions, the opera Julietta."

He thought about it also later when, in autumn 1958, he wrote to a friend in Prague from Switzerland where he then lived: Julietta "is the only thing I would like to hear again before I join the angels..." His wish materialized, and he could see its production in Wiesbaden in early 1959, but was disappointed with its obscure presentation. Lying in the death-bed, he had three volumes of the manuscript of the opera's piano reduction in front of him trying to write his own variant of the libretto, translating it back from Czech into French ... (He died shortly afterwards of stomach cancer in the cantonal hospital in Liestal on August 28, 1959.)

Jaroslav Mihule

Sleeve-note overtaken from Juliette, © Supraphon 2002



© 2004 Jan Muzik for Bohuslav Martinů Institute suggestion