In May of this year I reviewed a recording of Janáček’s Jenůfa from the Staatsoper unter den Linden that impressed me enough to get onto my all time favourites list. I really did not expect to come across another as good for a very long time, let alone one that is, perhaps, even better within a few months but I have. It’s the 2021 recording from the Royal Opera House and it’s really fine.
It’s a Claus Guth production and it’s intense and claustrophobic but in a simpler and more direct way than the Berlin production. It’s an enclosed stage with no obvious entries or exits and act 2 plays out in a sort of cage. This features maybe the one gimmick in the show; a giant crow that perches on the cage. Otherwise t’s quite straightforward with the setting and costuming appropriate to a Moravian village and no attempt to do anything but tell the story effectively. Which it does.
Like the Berlin recording there’s some really intense singing and acting; especially from the ladies and a wonderful account of the score from the orchestra. The title role is sung by Asmik Gregorian, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite singers. She has a rich, full soprano and is an amazing actor. Her Jenůfa combines dignity and pathos with just a hint of fun at the beginning. She’s also a really good mover, well able to interact effectively with the dancers who are used effectively here. The Kostelnička is Karita Mattila continuing her adoption of “mature” soprano roles. She is still in very good voice and has lost none of her abilities as an interpreter. If you had asked me a month ago whether I could imagine a stronger pair in these roles than Camilla Nylund and Evelyn Herlitzius I would have been quite skeptical but maybe I have now seen such. There’s also a very fine performance from Elena Zilio as the grandmother.
The men are good too. I think the stand out is Nicky Spence as Laca. He’s extremely lyrical (more so than Stuart Skelton) and rather endearing. Saimir Pirgu is very solid as Števa. All the minor roles are well done but I especially noticed a pleasingly bouncy Jana from Yaritza Véliz and a rather sinister foreman from David Stout. There’s also an excellent group of dancers.
The ROH chorus is in good voice and Hungarian Henrik Nánási certainly finds lyricism and drama in this wonderful score and is well backed up by the ROH orchestra. Whether he quite matches the detail and intensity of Simon Rattle I’m not sure but it’s really good.
The video is directed by Rhodri Huw and it’s fine. Generally we get a very good idea of what’s going on on the wider stage while also keeping the main action in view. Arguably there are a few too many facial close ups but it’s not especially obtrusive. On Blu-ray both video and sound (PCM stereo and DTS-HD-MA) are excellent. There are two minutes of intro material on the disk with Claus Guth and one of those plummy British TV music presenters which are OK but not especialy informative. The booklet though is barebones (unusually for Opus Arte) with just a synopsis. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.
So Staatsoper vs Royal Opera House? They are both very fine. Maybe Asmik Grigorian just tips it for London.
Catalogue number: Opus Arte OABD7302D