Janáček’s Jenůfa was staged and recorded at the Staatsoper unter den Linden in 2021 under COVID conditions. There’s no audience and the chorus members, in black, are distributed all around the auditorium. Even without a live audience it’s extremely dramatic and intense.
The production, directed by Damiano Michieletto, is deceptively simple but very effective. Basically there’s an empty space surrounded by reflective surfaces with some benches and an altar plus, in Act 2, a cradle. As the piece progresses a sort of stalactite makes an increasingly obtrusive appearance above the stage culminating in Act 3 with water pouring down in into a cut out in the stage that serves as “the hole in the ice”. There’s a complex lighting plot (Alessandro Carletti) which makes maximum use of the surfaces surrounding the action to create different moods. Within this framework there’s some very careful direction of the principals.
And what a cast it is! I hardly know where to start. Maybe with the searingly intense and exceptionally well sung Kostelnička of Evelyn Herlitzius. She goes through all the registers finishing up in a striking final scene where she is kneeling in the hole in the ice with water pouring all over her. Camilla Nylund, as Jenůfa, is equally effective, with fine acting and gloriously lyrical singing. The venerable Hannah Schwartz, as the grandmother, rounds out a wonderful trio of leading ladies.
Stuart Skelton, as Laca, stands out among the men. He starts out as something of a stumblebum, though with a stentorian tenor from the off. He becomes steadily more nuanced dramatically and vocally as the piece progresses and is truly touching in the last act. Ladislav Elgr is convincing, at times quite manic, as the alcoholic and unlikeable Števa. The supporting roles are all handled more than adequately; many of them by members of the company’s young artists programme.
Simon Rattle is on the podium. It’s not all that often that I think it’s the conductor that makes a performance truly great but with Rattle that happens surprisingly frequently and this is no exception. He gets fine performances from the cast and the excellent Staatsopernchor but it’s the intensely thrilling playing that he gets from the Staatskapelle Berlin that really stands out. Jenůfa is a truly great score with brilliant orchestral music and it really shines here.
On Blu-ray the picture is terrific and the DTS-HD sound track really captures the placement of the chorus as well as doing full justice to the singing and playing. Beatrix Conrad’s video direction is unfussy and effective. The booklet has a short essay with a full track listing and synopsis. Subtitle options are English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.
Jenůfa is quite well served on video with interesting productions from the Deutsche Oper and Madrid’s Teatro Real available in excellent modern recordings. However, for my money, this one tops the lot and is a clear first choice.
Catalogue number: C Major Blu-ray – 760504