Recordings > Video

JANÁČEK: Jenůfa

spacer Roocroft, Polaski; M. Dvorský, Schukoff; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real, Bolton. Production: Braunschweig. Opus Arte OA 1055 D (DVD) or OA BD7089 D (Blu-ray), 134 mins., subtitled

JenufaDVD

The filmed Jenůfa to beat is the 1989 Glyndebourne set, with searing work from Roberta Alexander, Anja Silja and Philip Langridge under Andrew Davis — surely one of the greatest opera DVDs. But Stéphane Braunschweig's intense production from Madrid's Teatro Real, with a cast of international stature, takes its place as another highly worthy version of this profound masterpiece. 

Braunschweig not only directed this staging but designed the sets (minimal but effective, with a few symbolic elements deployed skillfully in each act) and costumes. Much of the palette is black, white and red, and Marion Hewlett's lighting proves outstanding. The production opens with Jenůfa (Amanda Roocroft) entering with her rosemary plant. After the mill-wheel ostinatostarts up, the slats of a large, red mill wheel appear out of the floor, disappearing just as she begins her (first) Marian prayer; their return at the shattering climax of Act II may have worked better viewed live, but other stage effects and the personal interactions are sensitively realized. Ivor Bolton conducts Act I rather heavily but delivers more tension in the brilliant Act II; the Madrid orchestra plays impressively throughout.

Amanda Roocroft, making a considerable recovery from vocal problems that beset her a decade ago, sounds quite beautiful and healthy. The many high B-flats go best when approached softly, and she gets off forte notes above the staff with judicious speed. Roocroft makes an attractive figure onstage, if visibly mature for the village belle, and she's a responsive, sympathetic actress as well as a fine vocal artist. Miroslav Dvorský, once a fine Števa, has graduated to the older step-brother. The only fully idiomatic linguist of the principals, the accomplished Slovakian tenor looks a little long in the tooth for Laca (as do most singers who take on the part). Dressed unaccountably in a white linen landowner-ish suit in Act I — when he complains of being cheated of his inheritance and treated like a common mill hand — Dvorský looks in his interactions with Roocroft a bit like Uncle Vanya bothering a somewhat mature Yelena. But he's dramatically sincere and well equipped for the part's challenges. 

Deborah Polaski sang the Kostelnička in the 2003 premiere of the Met's current Jenůfa production. If anything, she's in more rounded, secure voice here. A very handsome woman, she uses her considerable height to advantage; her accuracy and dramatic restraint (no Expressionist poses) stand in illuminating contrast to many thrilling Kostelničkas, including Silja. Happily, the character's oft-cut passage musing on her unhappy marriage to Števa's act-alike uncle — which helps explain the plot — is restored here. Nikolai Schukoff, although something of an "indicator" as an actor, has the right sort of vulpine Slavic good looks for the spoiled Števa. The German-born tenor commands sufficient edge and brightness to carry off this unlikable character's few (but key) vocally rewarding moments. Mette Ej­sing's Grandmother Buryja and Károly Szemerédy's foreman are well deployed by the director and vocally more than solid. Despite one sharp entry, Elena Poesina makes a convincing, ardent Jano, with a nice fresh sound; María José Suárez and Marta Mathéu supply excellent cameos as the shepherdess and the mayor's wife. spacer 

DAVID SHENGOLD

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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10