What Men Live By (opera)

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What Men Live By (Čím člověk žije in Czech) is an opera in one act by Bohuslav Martinů to an English[1] libretto by the composer, based on Where Love Is, There God Is Also (1885) by Leo Tolstoy, though he chose to use the more universal title of a different Tolstoy story What Men Live By (1886). It was composed in 1951-1952 when the composer was living in the U.S.A, [1] and described by him as a 'pastoral-opera'.[2]

Performance history[edit]

The opera was premiered as a television broadcast in New York in May 1953.[1] The first staged performance took place on 31 July 1954 in Interlochen, Michigan, by the National Music Camp company.[3] Correspondence of the composer shows that he preferred semi-staging for the work which "positively rebels against the full trappings of operatic presentation", and "produced an unpretentious work of quiet, ecstatic beauty and radiant charm".[2] After the student staging with piano in 1954, the first performance with orchestra took place in New York the following year, and professional productions were mounted in Plzen and Brno using Czech translation.[4] The opera was nominated in the 'Rediscovered Work' Award in the International Opera Awards in 2015, through three Prague concert performances at the Rudolfinum in 2014 at the Martinů Music Days, with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.[4] A film of the opera, with soundtrack by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek in 2014, directed Jiří Nekvasil, was released in 2018.[5]


Role[3] Voice type[3] Premiere Cast
31 July 1954
(Conductor: )
Martin Avdeitch, a cobbler baritone
An old peasant pilgrim bass
Stepanitch, an old soldier bass
A woman with a child soprano
An old woman contralto
A boy spoken role
Speaker (narrator) tenor


The orchestral score requires 1 flute, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 1 trumpet, 1 trombone, timpani, percussion (various instruments), piano and strings (6 violins I, 6 violins II, 4 violas, 3 violoncellos, 2 double basses). Apart from the vocal soloists, a small chorus (or a vocal quartet or quintet) is also required.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Smaczny, Jan (1997) [1992]. "Martinů, Bohuslav". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. 3. London: Macmillan Reference Limited. p. 238. ISBN 1-56159-228-5.
  2. ^ a b Allison, John. A Counterfeit Art? John Allison explores Tolstoy on the operatic stage. Opera, Vol 69 No.9, September 2018, p1060-1.
  3. ^ a b c d "Bohuslav Martinu - What Men Live By - Opera". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  4. ^ a b Programme, International Opera Awards in 2015, p52.
  5. ^ Note on new TV film production in Czech of the opera accessed 24 August 2018.