If Thomas Hardy had written an opera libretto he might well have come up with something like Janáček’s Jenůfa. It’s a simple rural love story with domestic violence, betrayal, desertion, bastardy and infanticide thrown in. It also has an absolutely gorgeous score mixing folkloric elements, incredible lyricism and some pulsating rhythmic sections. The opera was substantially modified after it’s 1904 Brno premier but in 1989 Glyndebourne put on the original Brno version in a production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. It’s a three acter and opens with with scenes around a mill owned by Jenůfa’s fiancé, Števa. It’s all a bit cramped and old fashioned looking; probably a function of the small stage in the pre-reno Glyndebourne. Acts 2 and 3 take place inside Jenůfa’s foster-mother’s (Kostelnička) house and here the small stage makes the fairly simple room appropriately claustrophobic. What makes this performance worth seeing though is not the staging but the performances by the three principals; Anja Silja as Kostelnička, Roberta Alexander as Jenůfa and Philip Langridge as Jenůfa’s other suitor, Laca. They are backed up by a superb performance by Andrew Davis and the London Philharmonic. Davis just has an uncanny ability to wring every drop of lyricism out of score without sacrificing drama or forward momentum and he does it here every bit as well as he did in Ariadne at the COC back in May. Other reviews of this DVD that I have read have focussed heavily on Silja’s Kostelnička. I can see why. She is not far short of a force of nature and she drives the drama, especially in the horrific second act and the final scene. I think though that Alexander’s Jenůfa is just as important. She contributes the lyricism in the singing. It’s not that she lacks drama, she doesn’t, but she has a sweet toned voice that carries that element of the music through all three acts. Langridge’s Laca impressed me too. In Act 1 I wasn’t at all sure. He seemed miscast with the role not offering much for his stylish lyrical tenor but he grew on me during the more domestic bits of Acts 2 and 3.
Direction for video is by Derek Bailey. It’s unremarkable. There are some odd choices of super close-up which seem hardly necessary on a small, enclosed set but, whatever, it gets the job done. Technically, the disc shows its age. The picture is a slightly grainy 4:3 with hard coded English subtitles. Sound is reasonably well balanced Dolby 2.0. There are no extras. It’s another Kultur in North America, Arthaus in Europe release.
Overall, worth watching but there’s definitely room for a Jenůfa with better picture and sound.