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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

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Leoš JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
Jenufa (Její pastorykyna) (1894-1903, rev. 1906)
Jenufa – Amanda Roocroft
Kostelnicka – Deborah Polaski
Laca Klemen – Miroslav Dvorský
Števa Buryja – Nikolai Schukoff
Grandmother Buryjovka – Mette Ejsing
Foreman of the Mill – Károly Szemerédy
Barena – Sandra Ferrández
The Mayor – Miguel Sola
The Mayor’s Wife – Marta Mathéu
Karolka – Marta Ubieta
Herdswoman – María José Suárez
Jano – Elena Poesina
Aunt – Marina Makhmoutova
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real/Ivor Bolton; Peter Burian (chorus-master)
Stéphane Braunschweig (director and sets); production by the Teatro Real in co-production with Teatro alla Scala di Milano, based on an original production by Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris
rec. live, Teatro Real, Madrid, 22 December 2009; sung in Czech with English, French, German, and Spanish subtitles
Audio formats: LPCM 2.0, DTS Digital Surround; Aspect Ratio: 16.9
OPUS ARTE OA 1055 D [1 DVD: 128:00 (opera) + 6:00 (illustrated synopsis)]

Experience Classicsonline

The first thing one notices about this production of Janácek’s Jenufa is how dark the stage setting is. This is such a contrast to the Olivier Tambosi production, which I saw at the Met in New York back in 2003, which starred Karita Mattila as Jenufa, Deborah Polaski — also in the production reviewed here—as the Kostelnicka, and Vladimir Jurowski conducting. In that earlier production there was bright blue sky and golden wheat fields as part of the setting and a huge boulder on stage that was shattered in the last act. The staging in the Teatro Real production is much simpler and the darkness emphasizes the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Moravian setting. In the first act, there are large windmill blades representing the petit-bourgeois mentality of the townsfolk—the mill being a status symbol in the village; in the second act the infant in his bed, and in the third act wooden benches to represent the church with a large red cross in the background. I found that this staging only adds to the power of the opera and seems more appropriate than the rather odd symbolism of the Tambosi production which in all other respects was excellent. Both of these productions show greater respect for Janácek than what David Alden perpetrated when he “modernized” the opera and brought its action to the 1950s with Števa riding on stage on a motorcycle! That production was last seen in Washington, DC with Patricia Racette as Jenufa, Catherine Malfitano as the Kostelnicka, and Jirí Belohlávek conducting in 2007.
The production as recorded on the DVD concentrates on the characters and the viewer/listener’s attention is directed toward their inner feelings and thoughts, not just through the singing, but through close-ups of their facial expressions. In the case of the Kostelnicka (the church sacristan), this can be a powerful thing and I have nothing but praise for Deborah Polaski’s performance. Visually, at least, she steals the show and maybe she should. Janácek based his opera on a play by Gabriela Preissová with the title Její pastorykyna (“Her Foster-Daughter), and the opera only later became known for its other main character, Jenufa when Max Brod translated the opera into German. Jenufa, after all, is the work that put Janácek on the international stage, figuratively and literally. It is still his most popular opera today, although his last four, and greatest, operas are finally being performed with some frequency throughout the world.
While I have no complaints about Amanda Roocroft’s performance vocally, I find it harder to watch her on screen. Part of the problem is in the camera work where there is too much focus on her mouth and eyes. A little distance, such as one would experience in the opera house would have been beneficial. Just listening to the audio portion of the production completely erases any negative impression. Her voice seems perfect for the role and she sings it superbly, as does Polaski as the Kostelnicka. Both characters come off as multi-dimensional, but Roocroft seems older than what one would expect. This was not the case with Mattila in the Met production I cited above, though the soprano has a few years on Roocroft. With Polaski, on the other hand, you feel both the sternness of the character, as the town’s upholder of the faith and moral compass, and the love and concern she shows for her foster-daughter. After she confesses her sin of drowning Jenufa’s baby, her remorse is palpable. I cannot imagine this role being performed better than Polaski does here. The other characters are portrayed well, too, with Miroslav Dvorský as Laca believably caring and Nikolai Schukoff as Števa rather superficial and dandyish. Here is where the visual element is so important, because just listening to the two tenors — both in excellent voice — it is easy to confuse them, whereas their portrayals on the screen come alive as individuals. The other supporting roles are well taken.
As in all of Janácek’s operas, the orchestra plays a role at least equal to that of the singers. Ivor Bolton, who I hadn’t heard before, has the measure of the score and the orchestra plays very well for him. He balances the powerful sections where the timpani pound and the brass are given the lead, with the more lyrical passages such as the beautiful and heart-rending love duet in the final scene. The Prelude to Act II with its bassoon duet and timpani is also especially memorable in this performance. Bolton’s may not replace Sir Charles Mackerras’ Vienna account in my affections, but then who could? The Mackerras/Vienna Philharmonic production with Elisabeth Söderström on Decca remains in a class of its own, but is only on CD, so the comparison with the production here is not apt. One thing that is, however, and should be mentioned is the edition of the score. Bolton uses the edition that Mackerras pioneered. From 1916 until the 1980s, a bastardised orchestration by the music director of the Czech National Theatre in Prague, Karel Kovarovic, was the only version the world knew. Mackerras brought the original version back to life, proving that Janácek knew best all along.
The sound on the DVD is fine and the balance between the singers, chorus (in its limited appearance), and orchestra is exemplary. The picture, while intentionally dark, is clear, with the costumes of the soldiers and the dancers contrasting with some needed colour. The accompanying booklet contains a detailed plot summary of each of the three acts and a diagram of the family tree, as all of the main characters are related in some way or other. In all, this DVD of Janácek’s Jenufa is worthy of serious consideration by fans of the composer and opera lovers in general.

Leslie Wright


































































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