Three Wishes by Bohuslav Martinů and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes

‘The Three Wishes or the Inconsistencies of Life’

Three Wishes by Bohuslav Martinů and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes (French artist associated with the Dada movement) is one of the strangest works in opera history.

In this unusual opera the principle of “theater within theater“ is transformed into “film within opera”. In the first act we see a film being shot on stage - the story of a fairy fulfilling the three wishes of an ageing married couple - wealth, youth and love –the fulfillment of which turns out to be destructive for every character in the play and for their relationships. In the second act we actually watch the film that was made even as the action on stage surrounding the real characters develops.

The complexity of portraying this is likely the reason why the opera has been largely overlooked. It has only been performed three times in the Czech Republic. It had its world premiere in Brno in 1971, was performed in Prague in 1990, and saw its third production in Ostrava in 2015, which was a great success. Abroad the opera has so far been performed only on two occasions in Germany, although other works by Bohuslav Martinů are performed there relatively often.

‘The Three Wishes or the Inconsistencies of Life’ | Photo: Martin Popelář,  Národní divadlo Moravskoslezské

During the staging of the opera in Ostrava, the first act on stage was actually filmed, the film material was edited during the break and shown on a huge screen to the audience in the next act, like a silent movie. It is jointly judged both by the performers and the audience. Reality, cinematic fiction and a fairy-tale dream world blend into a unique scenic spectacle.

This “conjuring with worlds”, as Ribemont-Dessaignes called it, is underpinned by Bohuslav Martinů’s music and his masterly play with various musical styles of the time, above all, jazz. (The orchestra score includes saxophones, the flexatone, a modern percussion instrument and the accordion.)

There are only two known recordings of this work. The first is from the 1990 production by Janáček's opera in Brno and is available on the Supraphon catalog. The second was released this year in Ostrava as a non-commercial recording staged by a local opera ensemble.