The libretto was translated and adapted by the composer from the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was the composer's last opera, premiered on 12 April at the National Theatre Brno , two years after his death. There is only one female character, and the setting, a Siberian prison , presents a large ensemble cast instead of one or several prominent leads. There is no narrative to the work as a whole, but individual characters narrate episodes in their lives, and there is a play-within-a-play in act 2.
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The House of the Dead
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The book is, essentially, a disguised memoir; a loosely-knit collection of facts, events and philosophical discussion organised by "theme" rather than as a continuous story. Dostoevsky himself spent four years in exile in such a prison following his conviction for involvement in the Petrashevsky Circle. This experience allowed him to describe with great authenticity the conditions of prison life and the characters of the convicts. After his mock execution on 22 December , Dostoevsky's life was spared in exchange for four years of imprisonment in a katorga labor camp at Omsk in western Siberia.