Newton: Fifth Production Of Alden’s Jenůfa Is A Stunner

first_imgLaura Wilde (Jenůfa), Richard Trey Smagur (Števa Buryja) Photo by Ken Howard/The Santa Fe Opera Laura Wilde (Jenůfa), Alexander Lewis (Laca Klemeň), Patricia Racette (Kostelnička) Photo by Ken Howard/The Santa Fe Opera By CARL NEWTONLos AlamosAlthough I’ve been enamored of Janáček’s later orchestral works, like the rhapsody for orchestra Taras Bulba and the Sinfonietta, this is the first time to experience Jenůfa. I’m totally smitten by my opening night experience. Sitting in the 3rd row I observed the intensity of the performers.Anywhere in the Crosby Theatre most everything else is easily observed. The Avenir Foundation funded HD touchscreen Electronic Libretto System translates the Czech libretto being sung. The orchestra and the singers’ voices are well perceived.The lighted sets, costumes and the choreographed movements are accessible, but the facial expressions and other details will not be seen without optical magnification. Occasional use of binoculars would be a great asset.I read in the program book that the Brno version, critical edition by Sir Charles Mackerras and John Tyrrell is what we are hearing. The first sounds we hear from the orchestra are the minimalistic rhythmic staccato sounds of a xylophone, which Janacek uses to mimic a water wheel  that  generates power for the mill.At the Prelude Talk in Stieren Hall before the performance, Oliver Prezant said that Janáček’ was an avant garde composer and expressed the hot bloodedness of the Moravian culture. He also pointed out that Janáček’  used repetition for creating structure – repeated gestures.Director David Alden suggested that Janáček’  was the love child of Puccini and Beethoven – great melodies and great dramatic emphases. Alden with his designers moved the time of this production from the time of the world premiere to the Soviet era of a Czech village.The set for Act I has a booth that is occupied by the matriarch of a rather dysfunctional family as characterized by Gabriela Preissova’s play “Her Stepdaughter.” It suggests to me that the Soviet style of the control of the populace is what Grandmother Buryjovka attempts to exert on her heirs.An example of hot bloodedness happens in Act I when Laca (pronounced lot’sa) teases Jenůfa (pronounced Yeh’ new fah) with a coruscating electric gun.In the culture that Preissova wrote about it seems that there’s only a couple degrees of separation between relatives.Notably, the father of Jenůfa is Tomas, the younger son of Grandmother Baryjovka, whom Kostelnička was once married to. Fortunately for the orphan Jenůfa her barren stepmother has committed to love her in ways that turn out most conspiratorial.I find it almost unfathomable that the principal singers and the apprentice singers with the coaching of Milos Repicky take in stride the Czech prose that the composer wrote to mate with his outstanding score. I didn’t hear a weak vocalist anywhere in the cast.I read a New Yorker September 1980 commentary by Andrew Porter about the opera Jenůfa that I endorse. “One of the great operas of our century … suffering and despair have not been more keenly shared … attending it is a searing experience … unbearable but for the composer’s tenderness and compassion … out of the tragedy and the horror, understanding and love are born.”last_img

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