New York, Metropolitan Opera: “Jenufa”

New York, Metropolitan Opera: “Jenufa”

New York, Metropolitan Opera, 2015/2016
“JENUFA”
Opera in three acts. Libretto by the composer Leoš Janáček, after the play Její pastorkyňa (Her Stepdaughter) by Gabriela Preissová.
Jenůfa OKSANA DYKA
Grandmother Buryja HANNA SCHWARZ
Laca Klemeň DANIEL BRENNA
Jano YING FANG
Foreman BRADLEY GARVIN
Kostelnička Buryja KARITA MATTILA
Števa Buryja JOSEPH KAISER
Barena DISELLA LARUSDOTTIR
Old Shepherdess MARIA ZIFCHAK
Mayor RICHARD BERNSTEIN
Mayor’s Wife ELIZABETH BISHOP
Karolka CLARISSA LYONS
Aunt SARA COUDEN
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus
Conductor David Robertson
Production Olivier Tambosi
Set and Costume Designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann
Lighting Designer Max Keller
New York, November 3, 2016
Leoš Janáček
(1854-1928) is an important figure of Czech musical nationalism. However, when “Jenufa” debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1924, it was not well received. The critics were only impressed by Janáček‘s use of “authentic” folk music. In reality, the melodies were of his own invention.  Since then, his work has gained in popularity, but, in the United States, he is still not widely known. This is unfortunate, as Janáček‘s operas display a dramatic sensitivity, and a musical theatricality to rival other great composers like Puccini. “Jenufa” is essentially Czech verismo. The opera centers on the Kostelnička, the matriarch of a prominent family in rural Moravia. When her teenage stepdaughter Jenufa becomes pregnant out of wedlock, Kostelnička is driven to kill the newborn in order the save the family’s honor.  Therefore, the opera is similar to other famous works of the Italian verismo movement like “Cavalleria Rusticana” which aim to remove the illusion of simplicity from everyday life.
David Robertson gave a sensitive reading of Janáček’s score.  He was alert to the swift changes in mood that make this drama so compelling.  Karita Mattila as Kostelnička returns to an opera that she owned as the title character.  She’s known for her intense portrayals of such nuanced characters as Salome and Donna Anna.  Here she did not disappoint, her Kostelnička was a sympathetic, tragic figure.  You may not agree with her decision to kill her grandchild, but you understood why she needed too. Mattila has not been at The Met in recent seasons and it was good to see that her voice hasn’t lost any of its body. In the title role, Oksana Dyka, gave an uneven performance.  She brought a level of physicality to her acting that was enjoyable to watch and when called for it, she could sustain a high note that soared over the orchestra, but in general her voice sounded strident which might not be in keeping with a naïve pregnant teenager. In the role of Laca, Jenufa’s ever patient suitor, Daniel Brenna made good use of his profound tenor.  He spent the evening channeling John Vicars, which was thrilling. It was a great night for the smaller roles as well.  Ying Fang, graduate of the Lindermann Young Artist Development Program, as Juno the shepherd who Jenufa taught to read has great promise.  As the mayor, Richard Bernstein sang strongly and Clarissa Lyons who played his daughter, was sweet and sufficiently naive.  Hanna Schwarz as Grandmother Buryja had great presence and depth of voice.  Olivier Tambosi’s production is sparse enough to bring the music and drama into focus.  For the most part Frank Philipp Schlössmann’s sets and costumes deliver on the perimeters set out by the libretto, although the big cradle-shaped rock in the middle of the Kostelnička’s house in Act II might too symbolistic.  Photo Ken Howard

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