Jenůfa, de LEOŠ JANÁČEK, triumphs in the Valencian Palau de Les Arts


Leoš Janacek
D. musical: Gustavo Gimeno
D. scene: Katie Mitchell
D. choir: Francesc Perales
Sets and costumes: Lizzie Clachan
Lighting: James Farncombe
Dramaturgy: Klaus Bertisch
Distribution: Corinne Winters, Elena Zaremba, Brandon Jovanovich, Norman Reinhardt, Petra Lang, Sam Carl, Scott Wilde, Amparo Navarro, Laura Orueta, Olga Syniakova, Quiteria Muñoz, Larisa Stefan, Leticia Rodriguez
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana
Orchestra of Valencia


By Diego Manuel García Pérez

in their schedules, he Palau de Les Arts has always offered a balance between the more traditional repertoires and lesser-known works, truly innovative, like Alban Berg's Wozzeck that could be seen last year, or the operas by Benjamin Britten represented in past seasons. It was missing to show the extraordinary talent of the Czech composer Leos Janacek, with his Jenfa: one of the most important operas of the 20th century. Jenůfa has fully triumphed in Valencia, especially for the great performance of the Valencian Community Orchestra, superbly directed by Gustavo Gimeno, the always excellent Choir of the Generalitat Valenciana, and the two main interpreters: Norte American soprano Corinne Winters (Jenůfa) and the German mezzo Petra Lang (Little church).

El gran legado de Leoš Janáček.

Leoš Janacek (Huvaldy, Moravia-Silesia, former Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1854 – Ostrava, Czechoslovak Republic, 1928), can be associated with the generation of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) y Richard Strauss (1864-1949). Janáček's music is highly original and closely linked to Czech folklore, of which he was an active researcher.. This great interest in popular song and making the most of Czech prosody is evident in his operas., almost all premiered at the Brno National Theater: the first of them Šárka was composed in 1887, and released in 1925. Su segunda opera Conceive a Novel (beginning of a romance), was composed in 1891, and released in 1894. After a long gestation period between 1896 Y 1903, concluded Jenůfa, released in 1904. Between 1903 Y 1907 composed Osud (Destiny) released in 1958, thirty years after his death. In 1917, concluyó su quinta opera Trips of Mr. Broučkova (The excursions of Mr. Broucek), premiered at the National Theater in Prague, in 1920, year in which the composition of Káťa Kabanová begins, released in 1921, a la que seguirían The Adventures of a Vixen Fox (the crafty little fox) y The Makropulos case (The Makropulos case), premiered respectively in 1924 Y 1926. Concluyó su ultima opera From the dead house (From the House of the Dead), in 1928 (the year of his death), which was released in 1930, and like the three previous ones at the Brno National Theater. These last four operas together with Jenůfa, make Janáček one of the greatest composers of this genre in the 20th century.
Jenůfa is an adaptation that Janáček himself made of the play Její pastorkyňa (The step-daughter) de Gabriela Preissová, being one of the first scripts written entirely in prose. It is a tremendous and gloomy story related to Italian verismo and French naturalism., where even infanticide occurs, and which tells the complex relationships of the love triangle formed by Jenůfa madly in love with Števa and Laca in love with Jenůfa, together with the terrible and manipulative Sacristana, Jenufa's stepmother. The premiere took place the National Theater in Brno on 21 of January of 1904, and it should be noted that that same year Giacomo Puccini premiered Madama Butterfly, and in 1905, Richard Strauss on Salome. In those years Puccini was already very famous, and Richard Strauss achieved his first operatic triumph with Salomé, beginning a triumphant journey in this genre. Very different is the case of Janáček, who was already fifty years old when he premiered Jenůfa, in a provincial theater, not being able to do it in Prague, since the musical gyrfalcons that dominated the musical atmosphere of the Czech capital, led by Karel Kovařovic (Director of the National Theater in Prague, and also composer and conductor), they despised Janáček, who was finally able to release Jenůfa, in the czech capital, in 1916, not without having to pay a heavy toll, since the condition imposed was that Kovařovic himself make changes to the orchestration and some cuts. The Czech libretto was translated into German by the critic and writer Max Brod, which made possible its premiere in Vienna, in 1918, beginning a successful journey through different theaters in the German area. The so-called Kovařovic version is the one that will prevail for more than sixty years. It will premiere in America sung in German, at the New York Metropolitan Theater, in 1924, with the great Czech soprano Maria Jeritza, in the role of Jenfa.

The oblivion and recovery of Jenůfa.

For more than twenty years it will be rarely and almost always represented in the Czech area. In 1950 It was premiered at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, sung in german. Translated into French, it was premiered in Paris., in 1952, and four years later it could be seen in England, specifically in London Covent Garden sung in English. Its premiere in Spain took place at the Liceu Theater in Barcelona, in 1965, and also sung in Czech. It was performed for the first time in Italy., Teatro alla Scala in, in 1974, translated into italian.
Until the end of the 1970s, the Kovařovic version was usually performed, which can be seen in a video shot of 1971, performed at the Munich Opera, with acceptable color images, sung in german, and where the role of Jenůfa is interpreted in a very remarkable way by the German soprano Hildegard Hillebrech, although the maximum attraction is to see the portentous performance, especially in the theater, of the great Swedish soprano Astrid Varnay as Kostelnička, with the magnificent orchestral direction of the Czech Rafael Kubelik, one of the great batons of the 20th century. This video can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.
The work of Australian conductor and musicologist Sir Charles Mackerras (fervent admirer of Janáček), has been fundamental in the recovery of the original score, which Janacek reviewed in 1908, materialized in the recording, great sound quality, performed by DECCA, in 1982, where Charles Mackerras conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, with a large cast including Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström (magnificent interpreter of Jenůfa), el tenor polaco Wieslav Ochman (a referential Lacquer), together with two excellent Czech singers: half Eva Randová (Little church) and the tenor Petr Dvorsky (It counts). Authentically referential recording of this opera. Point out Jenůfa's great performance, performed by Czech soprano Gabriela Benacková, who in 1978-79, participated in a studio recording for the SUPRAPHON label, joint to the half-checa Nadezda Kniplová (Magnificent church). For twenty years, Benacková will perform Jenůfa in the most important theaters around the world; Y, apart from his studio recording, can be heard in two takes live: at Carnegie Hall in New York, in 1988, together with the impressive Kostelnička by the great Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek, and that same year, both singers performed it at the Brno National Theater. The two recordings can be heard in full on YouTube. It should be noted that in 1989, the prestigious Glyndebourne Festival, scheduled twelve performances of Jenůfa, in the Brno version, reviewed by Janacek in 1908, with the excellent interpretations of the American soprano Roberta Alexander (Jenůfa), by the German soprano Anja Silja (otra reference Kostelnička) and tenor Philip Langridge (tired), in a magnificent stage-directed production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, with set design and costume design by Tobias Hoheisel, and musical direction by Andrew Davis, fronting a brilliant London Philharmonic. Such was the success of those representations, that Alexander and Silja, they returned to play another fourteen performances at Glyndebourne, in 1992. Of these representations we have a video shot (truly referential), which is available in full on YouTube, with high-quality images and subtitles in Spanish.
During the first decade of the 21st century, la soprano Finlandesa Karita Mattila, will become another great interpreter of Jenůfa. There is a live take with magnificent sound made in London's Covent Garden, in 2001, marketed by ERATO, donde junto a Karita Mattila, can be heard, again, la extraordinaria Kostelnička de Anja Silja, directed by the great Dutch master Bernard Haitink, conducting the Covent Garden Orchestra. Several fragments of this recording are available on YouTube. Highly recommendable is the video taken at the Liceu in Barcelona, in 2005, with a magnificent cast headed by the Swedish soprano Nina Stemme (Jenůfa) and the Hungarian soprano Eva Martón (Little church), here you can see the famous production with stage direction by Olivier Tambosi, and which is also available on YouTube.
Interest in this opera continues to grow, and the last few years it is being interpreted very brilliantly by the Armenian-Latvian soprano, Asmik Grigorian, one of today's great voices. She sang the role of Jenůfa for the first time in a performance that took place in Covent Garden, in 2021 and that he performed again last year in Berlin and Vienna. A high definition video shot was taken at the London functions, commercialized by the OPUS ARTE label, and in it you can also see the great performance of Karita Mattila in the role of Kostelnička. This video can be seen on YouTube, Asmik Grigorian's stunning performance in his great Act II scene. Last year I debuted as Jenůfa, at the Grand Theater in Geneva, Norte American soprano Corinne Winsters, who has achieved an important triumph in the performances that have taken place at the Palau de Les Arts.

A production of the Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam

This Dutch production was released in 2018, with scenic direction by Katie Mitchell, absent in the replacement that has taken place in the Palau de Les Arts, and whose place has been taken by Robin Tebbutt, with set design and costume design by Lizzie Clachan, that presents us with a transposition of the original action of the work, in rural Moravia 1860, to current time. Here it can be seen in Act I, a modern office with computers, where Jenůfa works as a secretary, helping his grandmother Buryja, in administrative tasks. Attached to the office is a dining room with its respective tables and chairs.; both spaces are separated by a bathroom, closed at the back, but open so that the public can contemplate what happens there. Far behind the stage you can see a modern flour factory. In Act II, the action takes place in a spacious caravan, where Kostelnička has confined her stepdaughter to hide her pregnancy. Embedded, a small cabin appears where Jenůfa takes care of her newborn baby; Y, in all that space full of religious symbols, the most sordid and tragic part of this opera will unfold, in which Kostelnička plots the murder of her newborn grandson, that will consummate already offstage. Act III, takes place in a modern apartment owned by Kostelnička, where the characters are elegantly dressed. Personally, I think these productions, despite its visual appeal, they totally distort this modest rural setting that originated from the work, with the prominence of a mill, which here becomes an almost imperceptible flour factory. This embedded scenery causes not a few problems in the stage movements of the numerous characters, that become more evident with the arrival of the members of the choir. It also subtracts projection to the voices, aggravated in many moments when the orchestra sounds in forte.
musically, Jenůfa is a great symphony, where on many occasions the voices are inserted into the orchestral framework as another instrument. Gustavo Gimeno has managed to get the most out of the orchestra in a score of great rhythmic and timbre difficulties, together with a complex variety of dynamics. Ya, the orchestral sound begins to shine from the same initial overture with that jingle of the xylophone (will reappear many times), in which a repetitive theme of surround and circular sound is superimposed, where rope and wood stand out (especially the flutes), solo violin and horns. Highlight during Act I, orchestra fusion, choir and solo voices interpreting music of a folkloric nature, where the brilliant interventions of trumpets and trombones stand out. The orchestra offers impressive sounds, with some marked dissonances in the conclusion of Act I. Excellent performance by the orchestra in the short overture to Act II, with strongly descriptive music playing a storm, with repeated rolls of timpani and a tragic sound where the strings merge into tremolo and woodwinds, with brilliant interventions by bassoons and clarinets. Highlight the execution of the small interlude that follows the conclusion of the first great duet of Jenůfa and Kostelnička from Act II, with magnificent benefits of the woods (especially the flutes), to which trumpet joins, trombones and bass strings, and that concludes with the sound of the string in tremolo. At the start of Act III, the orchestra shines in the execution of music of a folkloric nature with a reiterated theme played by the high string accompanied by the low string, and where delicious sounds of oboes and flutes are inserted, taken up by clarinets and again by flutes and oboes. The orchestra in full, offers impressive sonorities in those two consecutive finales of the opera, rounding off a memorable performance.
Always in Jenfa, there is an authentic interplay between the solo voices and the orchestra, with brilliant interventions of different instruments: barley, English horn, bass clarinet, oboe, flutes, horns and repeated interventions of the bassoon. The soprano Corinne Winters with a voice of beautiful timbre very well projected, gave a magnificent interpretation of Jenůfa, marking the evolution of the character, from the young woman hopelessly in love with Števa in Act I, to that woman, in Act II, whose tragic life circumstances have made her mature rapidly and who shows infinite sorrow upon learning of the death of her son, where he shows a great theatrical ability. Y, in Act III, his total dejection and despair at the confession of his stepmother taking responsibility for having killed her grandson. Finally, the possibility of redemption and the beginning of a new life with Laca. Highlight their interventions in Act I, especially in the aria that precedes his duet with Števa, with an incisive and rhythmic phrasing, together brilliant rises to the treble. Y, especially, his big scene from Act II, full of poetry with repeated interventions of the solo violin, when show, with a song full of expressiveness, their changing moods, to conclude with a beautiful interpretation, full of emotion of “Salve Regina”, definitely, one of the highlights of this opera. Ya, in that second finale of the opera (an arioso-duo of captivating beauty), your interpretation is magnificent, with some expressive vocal inflections and brilliant raised to the treble, to merge with the voice of Laca, always accompanied by the sound of the harp in conjunction with the string and also with the horns, playing a repetitive chord. Excellent German mezzo Petra Lang as Kostelnička, with his voluminous voice and that song halfway between the recitative-expressive and the declamation. Imposing his stage irruption in Act I, with those imprecatory phrases addressed to Jenůfa, of the dire consequences of his relationship with Števa, whom she considers a drunk and compares him to her late husband in a brilliant monologue. Highlight his performance in Act II, in duets with Jenůfa, with moments of counter-song of both characters; Y, especially, in his great monologue where he plans the murder of Jenůfa's son, with an interpretation full of theatricality. His confession is also very dramatic., in Act III, taking responsibility for the baby's murder, with bass string accompaniment and bass clarinet. He also manages to capture -in contrast to his terrible character- lyrical emotions in Act II, when on his knees he implores Števa to take care of Jenůfa and her son. American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, in the role of Lac, shows an attractive and voluminous voice, with mastery of all records, where its powerful sharp stripe stands out. In its interpretation, alternate moments of great dramatic thrust, with others of fiery lyricism, that show their contradictions: malevolent and envious in Act I, and that evolves to show a true love for Jenůfa, overcoming any kind of prejudice. Highlight in Act I, his entrance on the scene endowing his singing with strong accents, as well as his intervention in the duet with the mill foreman (played very well by bass-baritone Sam Carl, voluminous voice), who reproaches him for the evil of his actions. Y, in his intense duet with Jenůfa, whom he ends up injuring in the face. His performance in the dramatic trio with Jenůfa and Kostelnička is also magnificent., conclusive of Act II. He brings expressiveness and lyricism in his duets with Jenůfa from Act III. Quite blurred the also American tenor Norman Reinhardt as Števa, with a small voice, unable to cross the orchestral barrier. Very good the Russian mezzo Elena Zaremba, in his many interventions in Act I, especially in the foursome with Jenufa, lacquer and the foreman, in conjunction with the choir. Also highlight his interventions in the great ensemble scene of Act III. Well the rest of the interpreters, especially the mezzo Laura Orueta as Karolka, and soprano Larisa Stefan as Jano, in his Act I duet with Jenufa. Very outstanding the interventions of the Choir of the Generalitat Valenciana, directed by Francesc Perales, in those scenes with folk music in Acts I and III.

Finally, listening to this true masterpiece, It is worth asking how Leos Janacek's career would have been? if he had had the support and promotion that Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss received.