Personalities | Karel Capek | Modern Era | Opera
Czechoslovakia’s most important playwright, novelist and essayist before the Second World War, Capek is probably best remembered for his satirical play R.U.R. (‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’, 1920). Aside from introducing ‘robot’ into the English language (courtesy of his brother Josef), this caused an international sensation by depicting the replacement of man by machine in modern society. As Capek saw it: ‘Man will never be enslaved by machinery if the man tending the machine is paid enough.’
When Janáček approached Capek for the rights to use his play The Makropulos Affair as the basis for his next opera, Capek was sceptical about how a man 35 years his senior would treat this modern work. Nevertheless, Capek was enthralled with the result, which retained the humanist and moral questions that were intrinsic to his writing. Refusing to eat or emigrate after the Western Allies allowed Germany to invade Czechoslovakia, Capek died of double-pneumonia on Christmas Day, 1938.
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