Despite its popularity in the opera house, the catalogue
is not over-endowed with recordings of " Jenufa ". Supraphon's version
(its third), with Gabriela Benackova in the title role and conducted
by Frantisek Jilek, was originally issued in 1981. This was followed
in 1983 by Charles Mackerras's fine version for Decca with Elisabeth
Söderström in the title role, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
in the pit and Eva Randova as Kostelnicka Buryjovka. This version was
the first to address the complex textural problems which surround the
Before its premiere in Brno in 1904,
the composer removed the overture, which he considered superfluous.
For its first performances in Prague, during the First World War, Karel
Kovarovic, the Director of the National Theatre, made wholesale revisions,
mostly without Janáček's knowledge, including the re-orchestration
of the final scene. It is in this version that the opera has become
For his recording in 1983,
Mackerras reverted to a version of Janáček's original thoughts,
including the original version of the final scene (though the
traditional version was also recorded). But he included the overture,
something which works on record but does not work well in the theatre.
He also included Kostelnicka Buryjovka's Act I 'explanation' aria which
details her unhappy past. This new recording is based on the 1908 Brno
version in an edition of the score by Charles Mackerras and John Tyrell,
published in 1996 by Universal. This does not include the overture discarded
by the composer nor does it use the traditional lush orchestration.
But it does include Kostelnicka Buryjovka's Act I aria.
The was a final change
made before the opera became internationally famous. Janáček knew
the work as "Jeji pastorkyna" (Her Stepdaughter), but the title "Jenufa"
came into use in Max Brod's German translation, the means by
which the opera became know to an international audience. This change
of title is significant as it indicates as shift in emphasis from Kostelnicka
Buryjovka to Jenufa.
This recording is represents a valuable record of a
fine production of the opera which took place at the Royal Opera House
in October 2001. The performances were significant not only for Karita
Mattila's searing performance in the title role, but also as this was
one of Bernard Haitink's final tasks as Musical Director of the Royal
Opera. Significance did not stop there. Though Kostelnicka Buryjovka
was sung by Anja Silja, Starenka Buryjovka (Grandmother Burya) was sung
by Eva Randova who had sung Kostelnicka Buryjovka in the previous production.
These performances represented Eva Randova's final opera performances.
It is good to have a record of Karita Mattila's luminous
performance in the title role. Beautifully sung whilst still remaining
intense and true to Janáček, it was
gloriously heartbreaking in the theatre and remains so here.
Recording a stage performance has pluses and minuses.
On the plus side is Jerry Hadley's Steva. On stage, hampered by a bad
wig, he looked completely wrong for the role. But here on the recording,
with just his voice, you can appreciate his performance as the charmingly
unreliable Steva, breezing through the opera in a devil-may-care manner.
I have heard more intense performances of Laca than Jorma Silvasti's,
but he responds wonderfully to Karita Mattila and their performance
of the final duet is deeply moving.
On the minus side, regrettably, are the performances
of Eva Randova and Anja Silja. Shorn of her physical presence, without
her gripping stage performance to focus on, Anja Silja's stern depiction
of Kostelnicka Buryjovka is put under considerable stress. Her voice,
though remarkably preserved, is no longer always pleasant to listen
to. Put under the least amount of pressure it develops an unpleasing
wobble and the high notes are a severe strain both on singer and listener.
It could be argued that Kostelnicka Buryjovka is a character under an
intense amount of stress and that beauty of tone does not matter so
much, but on this recording I think Anja Silja's voice stretches the
listener too far.
It is sad to say that the same must be said for Eva
Randova as Starenka Buryjovka. She displays little of the tone that
is familiar from her previous performances in this opera at Covent Garden
and on disc. Her memorial is surely her fine performance on the Mackerras
Besides Karita Mattila, the other great glory of this
disc is Bernard Haitink and the Royal Opera House orchestra. In his
previous performances of the opera at the Royal Opera House, Haitink
came under some criticism for using Karel
Kovarovic's reorchestration. Here, using Janáček's original orchestration,
the orchestra sounds no less rich and luminous. Never has the final
scene sounded so lovely, even without Kovarovic's rich additions. Haitink
also gives the singers space. Whilst never sounding pedestrian,
he allows time for the dialogue to breathe.
Unfortunately, the recording engineers seem to have
been a little too seduced by the orchestral sound. I found that the
balance rather too favoured the orchestra and that at times the singers
were more covered than I would have liked. This led me to wonder whether
my strictures on the quality of Anja Silja's voice might also, quite
reasonably, be laid at the door of the recording engineer.
Turning to Sir Charles Mackerras's version for Decca,
it is immediately noticeable that Mackerras's performance is swifter.
Söderström's performance is no less moving than Mattila's.
Söderström's distinctive, wiry toned voice lends itself perfectly
to this role and she is complemented by the Vienna Philharmonic who
provide a taut accompaniment. The overall performance is more visceral
than Haitink’s. Tautness and speed are emphasised by the significant
number of Czech speakers on Mackerras's recording. This is a distinct
advantage. Dialogue can flow more freely and the native speakers are
able to keep more of a sense of line whilst singing - quite a tricky
thing to do in the Czech language. The Haitink recording has a number
of moments where the singers seem to reduce the vocal line to a series
of disconnected syllables rather than phrasing. Mackerras's recording
also favours the voices rather more than Haitink's, again this is an
advantage. Readers interested in exploring the Czech tradition of singing
this music should consider investigating Supraphon version, recorded
with all Czech forces, even though it uses the Kovarovic edition.
Eva Randova as Kostelnicka Buryjovka on the Mackerras
recording, is in fine voice compared to her later incarnation on the
Haitink recording. As Kostelnicka Buryjovka her voice is richer (particularly
in the lower register) and she sings with far more sense of line than
Anja Silja for Haitink. Randova's interpretation seems more subtle,
her Kostelnicka Buryjovka is stern but not as inflexibly fierce as Anja
Silja's. Silja's vocal limitations emphasise her character's anger and
under pressure she often sounds furious. Whereas Randova, with greater
vocal resources at her control is able to contribute a more rounded
I would not want to be without this new recording,
for Karita Mattila's performance and for the lovely playing of the Royal
Opera House Orchestra under Bernard Haitink. But I will be going back
to the Mackerras recording. He seems to offer a far more unified performance
of the work. Also, as recorded here, Anja Silja is no match for Eva
Randova on top form.