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Leoš JANÁCEK (1854 - 1928)
Jenufa (Brno Version - 1908)
Jenufa - Karita Mattila
Kostelnicka Buryjovka - Anja Silja
Starenka Buryjovka - Eva Randova
Laca Klemen - Jorma Silvasti
Steva Buryja - Jerry Hadley
Starek (Foreman) - Jonathan Veira
Rychtar (The Mayor) - Jeremy White
Rychtarka (The Mayor’s Wife) - Carole Wilson
Karolka - Leah-Marian Jones
Pastuchyna (Herdswoman) - Elizabeth Sikora
Barena (Servant Girl) - Rebecca Nash
Jano - Gail Pearson
Tetka - Jennifer Higgins
Hlas - Jonathan Fisher
Zena - Eryl Royle
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Bernard Haitink
Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 10-18 October 2001
ERATO 0927453302 [69.19+58.39]

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 opera.

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 well known.

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 disc.

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 portrait.

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.

Robert Hugill



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