For me, the luminous sound of the score is the main appeal of Jenůfa, the watershed 1904 Czech opera by Leoš Janáček. In the current revival at the Met, Conductor David Robertson delivers a gorgeously polished account of the piece, making singers and orchestra feel almost like a single virtuoso instrument.
Finnish soprano Karita Mattila is the established star here, playing the title character’s stepmother, the Kostelnička, the moral guardian of the small village in which they live. She delivers on her reputation, singing with great clarity and passion, but it’s a credit to the quality of this production that she doesn’t particularly stand out.
Oksana Dyka is equally marvelous as Jenůfa, a victim of the village’s hypocrisy – a role which helped Mattila make her reputation. The stepbrothers in love with Jenůfa both shine as well, Daniel Brenna showing great dynamism as Laca, and Joseph Kaiser as Steva is exactly the kind of dazzling high tenor the role needs.
I’m not so in love with the story of the opera – which includes jealous men disfiguring women and infanticide – but do appreciate its psychological subtlety. The people you thought were evil turn out to be good, and vice versa; there is much redemption going around. Jenůfa is a beautiful, unique piece of music, and this is a must-hear rendition. Recommended.
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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.