Janácek Jenufa

One historic recording of considerable interest; and Haitink’s acclaimed production with Mattila a gripping lead

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: Leoš Janáček

Genre:

Opera

Label: Erato

Media Format: CD or Download

Media Runtime: 139

Mastering:

Stereo
DDD

Catalogue Number: 0927-45330-2

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Jenufa Leoš Janáček, Composer
Anja Silja, Kostelnicka, Soprano
Bernard Haitink, Conductor
Eva Randová, Grandmother Buryja, Contralto (Female alto)
Gail Pearson, Jano, Soprano
Jerry Hadley, Steva, Tenor
Jonathan Veira, Foreman of the Mill, Baritone
Jorma Silvasti, Laca, Tenor
Karita Mattila, Jenufa, Soprano
Leoš Janáček, Composer
Rebecca Nash, Barena, Soprano
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden

Composer or Director: Leoš Janáček

Genre:

Opera

Label: Myto

Media Format: CD or Download

Media Runtime: 136

Mastering:

ADD

Catalogue Number: MCD023266

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Jenufa Leoš Janáček, Composer
Anny Felbermayer, Barena, Soprano
Dagmar Hermann, Shepherdess, Mezzo soprano
Elizabeth Höngen, Grandmother Buryja, Contralto (Female alto)
Hans Braun, Mayor, Bass
Hilde Konetzni, Old Woman (Tetka), Soprano
Jaroslav Krombholc, Conductor
Jean Cox, Steva, Tenor
Leoš Janáček, Composer
Ljubomir Pantscheff, Foreman of the Mill, Baritone
Lucia Popp, Karolka, Mezzo soprano
Martha Mödl, Kostelnicka, Soprano
Olivera Miljakovic, Jano, Soprano
Sena Jurinac, Jenufa, Soprano
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Waldemar Kmentt, Laca, Tenor
Listen to the opening bars of these two recordings and you might think you were hearing different operas: Haitink, recorded live 15 months ago at the Royal Opera House, takes a leisurely and subtle view of the prelude – the xylophone tapping to represent the turning of mill-wheel ominous but suggestive – while Krombholc at the Vienna State Opera in 1964 is much faster and more furious, overtly evoking Jen<=fa’s terror that her guilty secret – her imminent unmarried motherhood – might be discovered with an insistant ostinato that sounds like a death-rattle.

Krombholc was an outstanding Janácek conductor – his stereo Supraphon recording of Káta Kabanová had no rivals until Decca launched its award-winning series of the five great operas under Charles Mackerras – and he rarely relaxes the tension during Jenufa’s three pithy acts. But the Myto set is inevitably a ‘specialist’ issue. Sung in German, as was the practice in the German-speaking world until at least the 1970s, it remains treasurable for Sena Jurinac’s plangent-voiced, deeply moving heroine and for Mödl’s authority and psychological disintegration as her guilt-wracked stepmother, the infanticide sextoness (Kostelnicka) Buryovka. Waldemar Kmentt and Jean Cox are less convincing as Laca and Steva – the budding Canadian Heldentenor Cox has the heavier of the two voices and Kmentt’s basically lyric tenor sounds stretched beyond its limits. But there are vivid cameos from the veteran Elisabeth Höngen as Granny Buryovka and the very young Lucia Popp – in the year her sensational EMI Queen of Night under Klemperer was released – as Steva’s new sweetheart Karolka (she recorded the same role commercially 18 years later as a guest-star on the now-classic Mackerras recording).

Unsurprisingly, Haitink’s approach to Jenufa is more ‘romantic’ than either Krombholc’s or Mackerras’s and one which some Janácekians will undoubtedly find too soft-centred and lacking in theatrical frisson. Certainly in the great scene in which the Kostelnicka returns from drowning Jenufa’s baby in the icy waters of the river, Haitink misses the sheer terror Mackerras and the Vienna Philharmonic evoke as the wind blows open the window and the Kostelnicka imagines that Death is peering into her house – although his Kostelnicka, the veteran Anja Silja, is simply riveting here as she was (is always) in the theatre – horror-struck at the enormity of her crime. And Haitink’s warm-hearted interpretation brings its own rewards. In the theatre I don’t think I have ever been so moved by the opera’s closing pages as Jenufa forgives her step-mother and she and Laca look forward to a better life together. Karita Mattila and Jorma Silvasti sing so gloriously here, and Haitink’s orchestra plays so rapturously, that you almost forget that the conductor is using Janácek’s original score rather than the romanticised retouchings of Karel Kovarovic with its antiphonal horn motifs. The emotional catharsis of the live performance comes across almost as vividly here and for this scene alone I would urge all who love this wonderful opera to hear this new recording.

There is plenty more to enjoy too: on disc one is less bothered than in the theatre by Jerry Hadley’s portly middle-aged appearance as Steva and he seems in better voice than he did on the first night of the stage production, as does Eva Randová’s touchingly frail Granny, about whom I wrote rather unkindly in The Sunday Times (the recording having been taken from several performances). Randová is, of course, the only native speaker in the Covent Garden cast, which sounds inevitably less idiomatic in the original language than Mackerras’s, of which only Elisabeth Söderström’s Jenufa and Wieslaw Ochman’s Laca were non-Czechs: Randová is the Kostelnicka in that recording and from the purely vocal point of view she remains unsurpassed – a truly great piece of singing which Silja’s, for all her individuality and charisma, is not.

In sum, Haitink’s Jenufa clearly does not topple the Mackerras version from its pedestal but it is a deeply rewarding and, I think, valid alternative, especially collectable for Mattila’s heroine and Silvasti’s superlatively sung Laca.

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