The mesmerizing staging and performances of the extraordinary chamber opera “Tomorrow There Will Be … ” continue to live on in helmer Jan Hrebejk’s precisely shot and sensitively edited documentary. The opera, an account of the 1950s show trial of Milada Horakova — the only female political prisoner executed during the communist regime, now considered a Czech national heroine — played to sold-out crowds at Prague’s Kolowrat Theater in 2008. Already screening at Czech centers around the world, the docu boasts ancillary value as both history lesson and rendering of hauntingly beautiful music and stunning stagecraft. Highbrow artscasters should take note.
Originally, Hrebejk thought to incorporate some of the performance in his 2009 feature “Kawasaki’s Rose,” which explains the cutaways to audience members Lena Vlasakova and Jiri Menzel (who was first slated to play the role ultimately taken by Martin Huba). The opera’s composer and co-librettist, Ales Brezina, has provided scores for three of Hrebejk’s films, as well as several directed by Petr Zelenka.
Reportedly written for the astounding octogenarian performer Sona Cervena, who convinces despite being more than 30 years older than Horakova when she stood trial, the piece is simply but powerfully staged for two soloists and two choirs by experimental opera veteran and co-librettist Jiri Nekvaskil. Shooting during a public performance, Hrebejk’s cameramen essentially capture the experience of an audience member in the intimate theater space, with their visual focus cued by stage lighting and singing.
Horakova, who had been imprisoned and nearly executed during the Nazi Occupation for her resistance work, was a Member of Parliament who resigned after the communist takeover in February 1948. She was arrested in 1949, accused of conspiracy and treason and brought to trial with 12 co-defendants in what was a carefully staged “performance” meant to deter possible anti-communist resistance.
The prosecutors supplied a transcript for the testimony to follow, but Horakova refused to stick with the script. The opera libretto, comprised of 14 episodes, includes excerpts from the arrest, trial and sentencing as well as Horakova’s family’s plea for mercy and her farewell letter.
Set and costume designer Daniel Dvorak furnishes memorably striking visuals; among the most chilling are members of the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir dressed as demure young communist pioneers with bloodstained white shirts. Also drawing the eye is the dazzling performance by Cervena’s fellow soloist, Jan Mikusek, in a variety of roles, singing counter-tenor yet speaking in sonorous masculine tones.
With the intention of documenting rather than creating a separate cinematic experience, the DV lensing by Hrebejk’s regular collaborators provides proximity to the gripping action onstage. Sound mix also delivers.