Review of Jenůfa – a painfully sad and powerful story of infanticide | Opera
IEoš Janáček’s opera, revolving around the central story of infanticide, is nothing but anguished and painfully sad. Today, given the attention of the present times and the knowledge of the atrocities perpetrated in Ukraine, this National Opera of Wales the revival of their 1998 production took on a powerful emotional force. Addressing the audience before it begins, the company’s conductor and musical director, Tomas Hanus, spoke with emotion of the essential humanity of Janáček’s work and the shared privilege of living it in the face of the tragedy of war. The intensity he inspired in the orchestra and the singers spoke volumes.
Director Katie MitchellThe concept of has always carried an uncomfortable tension. Highlighting the claustrophobia of a tight-knit community, grandmother Buryja, owner of the mill, and her daughter-in-law, the village sacristan, the Kostelnička, represent the two conditioning but mind-numbing elements of everyday village life, work and of religion. The two women see in Jenůfa – granddaughter of one, daughter-in-law of the other – the only person who will create the balance, but the complication is that she is pregnant with Steva, heir to the mill, loved by his half-brother, Laca. It is the latter who, in a moment of frenzied jealousy, lacerates Jenůfa’s face. But the deepest scar is the death of baby Stevushka, murdered by the Kostelničkas in the mistaken belief that she can right wrongs.
With Elizabeth Llewellyn in the title role, it’s Jenůfa’s intrinsic goodness that comes through so convincingly: her singing had great poise and a lyrical line, she colored her character’s tenderness and compassion, her agony at loss from Stevushka simply heartbreaking. This goodness, which Laca in fact always understood, is the agent of their ultimate love, the redeeming humanity to which Hanus was referring. It is perhaps the final optimism of Gabriela Preissová’s original novel that Mitchell’s enigmatic closing tableau alludes to, with the backdrop rising to show a child from Jenůfa greeting his grandmother, the now rehabilitated Kostelnička.
Pierre Berger was a passionate Laca, but with small carefully observed gestures of solicitude, and Rhodri Prys Jones a strong but unfriendly Steva. Eliska WeissovaKostelnička de was a formidable figure, her beautiful soprano blazing first with the certainty of her conviction that she had Jenůfa’s well-being at heart, then with bitter remorse when she admitted her crime. It was an utterly compelling performance from the cast, chorus and orchestra, embracing such empathy and commitment that it left its audience deeply moved and more than a little exhausted.