Janáček wrote this opera between 1903 and 1905. His daughter Olga had died shortly before he began to compose it. He had also just finished his opera Jenůfa which has a tragic ending for the young girl in the story.
The young lady who wrote the libretto (words) for Janáček had been one of his daughter’s close friends. She wrote using the name Tálská. Janáček thought the opera had autobiographical ideas. He also wanted a change from writing about simple, country people as he had done in Jenůfa, so the people in the story of Fate belong to the upper classes, the rich people of society.
The story of the opera is quite strange and unbelievable. It has often been criticized for not being logical. The story consists of lots of little scenes which make the story jump about. The language of the libretto is very deliberately old-fashioned. Czech people who have worked with this opera have often felt that this formal language has made it hard for audiences to understand. Some people have felt that when the opera is sung in other languages it is sometimes better because the language sounds more real.
Nevertheless, although the opera has had these criticisms, the music is some of the best music that Janáček wrote.
Story of the opera[change | change source]
The story takes place at the beginning of the 20th century, which was the time in which Janáček was composing it.
In Act I Gentlemen, students and young girls are walking about in a health resort. The men are interested in a girl called Míla. Míla sees a young man called Živný in the crowd. Živný is a composer. He and Míla used to be lovers. They had a child. She tells Živný that it was her mother who made them split up so that she could marry someone rich. Her mother had made her move away from Prague to give birth to the child in the country. The two lovers now want to forget their unhappy past and live together with their little son Doubek.
Act II takes place several years later. They have been living together happily. Míla’s mother lives with them but has gone mad. While the lovers read the story of an opera which seems to tell of their own lives, the mother screams and Živný tears up the music of the opera. The mother grabs her daughter and throws herself and Míla down the steep staircase.
Act III takes place in a music conservatory eleven years later. Živný’s students, one of whom is their son Doubek, are singing music from an opera that Živný has composed. Živný himself is like the hero of his opera. The last part of the opera has not yet been composed. The students act out a scene from Doubek’s childhood and make fun of it. Živný talks about his opera. A storm comes up and he is killed by lightning. His opera will never be finished.