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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Jenůfa

Leoš Janáček's harrowing drama of Czech village life returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Oksana Dyka in the title role of Jenůfa, opening at the Met on Oct. 28.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
The last time the Met staged its production of Jenůfa, Karita Mattila shone in the title role. Now, the Finnish diva graduates to the role of the Kostelnicka, the original operatic stepmother from hell. t
his bucolic tragedy is one of Janáček's masterpieces and the opera tht made the Czech composer a sensation late in life.

What is Jenůfa about?
Janáček's opera turns on a complex set of familial relationships and a morally ambiguous world where even the local church sacristan is capable of the greatest sin.  Jenůfa is in love with the callow Steva and has borne his child but is the obsession of his brother Laca. In a fit of rage, Laca disfigures her. In the second act, Jenůfa's stepmother the Kostenicka takes the baby away. In the third act, Jenůfa stands accused of the child's murder.

Why should I see Jenůfa?
This is heavy stuff, the Czech answer to the verismo operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo. Janáček's  unique orchestral idiom provides the perfect accompaniment, with hard-edged chords and angular wind figures evoking the rusticity of village life. The second act is a nail-biter, with some of the most tense action in any opera--all without leaving a cottage in the middle of the frozen Moravian winter. This was the opera that elevated Janáček from obscure country composer to international sensation, and started a run of great works that are considered his mature masterpieces.

Who's in Jenůfa
The cast boasts the fine soprano Oksana Dyska in the title role and of course Ms. Mattila, a powerhouse singer whose last appearance at the Met was another Janáček opera: the 2013 revival of The Makropoulos Case. The excellent cast includes Joseph Kaiser as the oafish Steva, Daniel Brenna as Laca and  veteran mezzo Hanna Schwarz as Grandmother Buryja. David Robertson conducts.

When does the show open?
The first performance of Jenůfa this season is Oct. 28.

Where do I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I buy?
Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, 1983. Label: Decca
This starry and authentic recording is buoyed by the searing performance of soprano Elizabeth Söderström in the title role, a crack supporting cast that sounds absolutely idiomatic in Czech and the particular genius of conductor Sir Charles Mackerras in the pit. Top-notch. 

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