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The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Met Jenufa lg 117
Dyka and Mattila, Jenůfa and Kostelnička at the Met
© Johan Elbers

THE MET REVIVAL of Olivier Tambosi’s 2003 production of Jenůfa—an uneven but workable staging that starred the luminous Karita Mattila in the title role both originally and in 2007—made its strongest statements on October 28 when Mattila was back onstage, now as the Kostelnička, Jenůfa's rigorous stepmother. The Finnish soprano, who first ventured the role in this production at San Francisco Opera this past June, enjoyed a deserved triumph with the Met audience, which last witnessed her committed artistry and glowing upper-middle register in May 2012, as Janáček’s very different Emilia Marty. 

Mattila’s understanding of the required phrasing (making a repeated line tell differently in every iteration) and complex stagecraft proved exhilarating, and—though its lowest notes emerged rather muted—her voice is still luminous and house-filling. This contrasted unfairly with the Jenůfa of Ukrainian soprano Oksana Dyka, interpretively tentative and physically awkward in a role debut marred by a sound essentially too dark, hard and edgy for her lovely music. Dyka’s ensemble-piercing B-flats were welcome, but little else had similar impact. 

American tenor Daniel Brenna’s Laca was also quite primitive in a role demanding skilled singing acting. He too offered secure top notes, but the redemptive final scene for Laca and Jenůfa needed more intensity and more attractive vocalism. Mattila’s artistry worked best opposite the singularly stageworthy Joseph Kaiser, whose Števa was cleanly and securely sung, and Hanna Schwarz’s classily austere Grandmother Buryja.

Conductor David Robertson supplied a strong musical foundation, maintaining admirable instrumental clarity and balance. The solo violin in the passage leading up to Jenůfa's Marian prayer, played by concertmaster Nikki Choi, proved as affecting and precise as Dyka’s vocalism was not. On opening night, the pace was well judged, though it seldom attained the life-and-death onrush much of the writing demands. From the first churning ostinato, the Buryja family mill—the source of the half-brothers’ economic rivalry, reinscribed in their erotic competition for their cousin Jenůfa—haunts Janáček’s score. This musical aspect is afforded no consideration in Frank Philipp Schlössmann’s sets, colorful in the outer acts but bizarre and inadequate in the central setting, inside the Kostelnička’s house. Act II, featuring all four leads (and nobody else) in desperate, heartrending colloquies—set off by highly contrasted solo scenes for each soprano—surely counts among the tensest and most musically riveting acts in opera. It demands a sense of carefully guarded enclosed space, as the Kostelnička has been hiding the expectant stepdaughter there; in this staging, there are no doors and only a huge back window—making the act’s spectacular conclusion hard to stage—and the viable playing space is cramped by the huge, unsubtly metaphoric boulder.

It takes a village to populate Jenůfa. The Met filled the small parts uncommonly well, with a mix of veterans and young artists. The exuberant entrance of Ying Fang as Jenu˚fa’s student Jano gave us the evening’s first fresh and truly beautiful vocal sounds. Two other lyric sopranos also sparkled—Dísella Lárusdóttir, as Barena, and Lindemann Young Artist Clarissa Lyons, as Karolka. Lyons was making her company debut, as was contralto Sara Couden, another Lindemann artist, as the Aunt. On the bass end of things, Bradley Garvin (Foreman) and Richard Bernstein (Mayor) sounded imposing and characterful. Another front-line voice briefly heard was that of versatile mezzo Elizabeth Bishop as the meddling Mayor’s Wife. But pride of place went to Maria Zifchak’s Maid: in refulgent voice, Zifchak gave a committed, detailed performance both comic and serious. In total, this Jenůfa earned its fierce ovations.  —David Shengold 

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