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Monday, April 11, 2011

DVD Review: Barn Dance of Death

Jenůfa from the Teatro de Liceu

Tenor Jorma Silvasti as Laca in Act I of the Olivier Tambosi production of Jenůfa.
Photo by Robert Millard © 2007 Los Angeles Opera.
This live DVD (filmed in 2005 at the Teatro de Liceu) of Leos Janaček's rustic tragedy Jenůfa brings together two generations of fine dramatic sopranos: Nina Stemme in the title role and Eva Marton in the key role of the Kostelnička. And yes, Met-goers, this DVD preserves the same production that graced the stage of that house in 2007.

Jenůfa premiered in 1904, and was the opera that "broke" Janaček, elevating him to the realm of the most important opera composers to come from what was then Bohemia, and is now the Czech Republic. Based on a play by Gabriella Pressiová, it is a searing tale of love, jealousy and mayhem in a Moravian village: an Eastern European answer to Cavalleria Rusticana

Janaček's opera is about surviving and withstanding tragedy. The power of love overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles, achieving, if not happiness, at least a kind of stability. This sturdy production (by Olivier Tambosi) keeps things simple with a triangular acting surface, symbolizing the complex relationships at the heart of the opera. The outer acts take place in a rustic barn structure, evoking the world of the Moravian peasants. The dark central act is staged in the dark, with a large stone inexplicably dropped in the middle of the stage.

The titular Jenůfa is a young girl with a complex family relationship. A series of tragic events ensues. Her face is slashed by a jealous lover. Her stepmother, the Kostelnička, takes it upon herself to drown Jenůfa's illegitimate baby. In the third act, the corpse is discovered. Jenůfa is nearly killed by a mob of villagers, until the Kostelnička steps forward and takes the blame for the tragedy.

Nina Stemme tracks Jenůfa's journey with a soaring performance, that takes her from a shallow, romantically obsessed girl, to victim, to a transcendent figure capable of forgiving the Kostelnička. Ms. Stemme displays a powerful soprano voice, rising to the occasion for the final duet with Laca that ends the opera.

As the Kostelnička, Eva Marton shows that there is life after Brunnhilde. Her voice still has the power that enabled her to sing Brunnhilde and Turandot. However she has acquired a powerful vibrato that flirts with wobble but never goes over the edge. She is also a fine actress, bringing weight and dignity to the character despite her horrific deed.

Finnish tenor Jorma Silvasti is simply terrific as Laca, the frustrated suitor who attacks Jenůfa, only to wind up with her at the end of the opera. Mr. Silvasti has good command of Czech and a fine, dramatic tenor. Baritone Pär Lindskog gives a strong performance as Steva, the callow stud whose rejection of Jenůfa sets the plot in motion. Peter Schneider conducts a rchly textured performance that makes the most of Janaček's unique tonaltites and folk rhythms.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.