Opera Scotland

Jenůfa Její pastorkyňa (Her Stepdaughter)

Music
Leoš Janáček (born Hukvaldy, 3 July 1854; died Ostrava, 12 August 1928)

Text
The composer.

Source
Drama (1890) by Gabriela Preissová.

Premieres
First performance: Brno (National Theatre), 21 January 1904.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 10 December 1956.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 31 August 1974.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 16 February 1977.

Background
Janáček’s third opera, traditionally known in Britain as Jenůfa, was a great success in his local theatre of Brno, and is now one of his most popular works. It was not performed in Prague until 1916, and that was in an edition much altered by Kovařovic. Until quite recently, this version was widely performed, but the original is now preferred. The family relationships are complex. Jenůfa is stepdaughter to a widow known as the Kostelnička, or church Sexton. She is also granddaughter to the mill-owner, and therefore cousin to Števa, who will inherit the mill. Laca is Števa’s stepbrother, and works in the mill. The wonderful performances in Edinburgh in 1974 by the Stockholm Opera, were led by Elisabeth Söderström and Kerstin Meyer as Jenůfa and her stepmother. They had a shattering effect on audiences and prompted Scottish Opera to join WNO in a hugely successful cycle of five Janáček works in the succeeding years.

Main Characters
Jenůfa (soprano)
Grandmother Buryjovka, owner of the Mill (contralto)
Laca Klemeň (tenor)
Foreman at the Mill (baritone)
Kostelnička Buryjovka (soprano)
Števa Buryja (tenor)
Karolka, the Mayor’s daughter (Karolka)

Plot Summary
Laca loves Jenůfa, but during his absence in the army she has been seduced and made pregnant by the more obviously attractive Števa. Now she worries that Števa is to be conscripted in his turn, which will prevent their marriage, but he escapes the roster, and gets drunk to celebrate. The Kostelnička uses this as an excuse to force the postponement of Jenůfa’s wedding for a year. During an argument, Laca cuts Jenůfa’s cheek, scarring her for life. Through autumn and much of winter, Jenůfa is kept secretly at home, and the Kostelnička has told the villagers that she is in Vienna. After the birth, she keeps Jenůfa sedated while trying to persuade Števa to marry her. But Števa is now going to marry Karolka. Laca offers to marry Jenůfa, but he recoils when he is told of the baby. The Kostelnička tells him it died. Alone, she decides that to give Jenůfa any chance of happiness the baby must die. She takes it outside. Jenůfa awakes and finds the baby gone. Her stepmother tells her she has been feverish for three days, that the baby has died, and that Števa has abandoned her. Laca proposes to Jenůfa, but the Kostelnička is now overwhelmed by a sense of guilt. In the spring the day for Jenůfa to marry Laca arrives. But the corpse is found and Jenůfa identifies it. The villagers nearly lynch her. The Kostelnička confesses and is taken away. Laca and Jenůfa recognise that they will survive the difficulties of the forthcoming trial and live together happily.

RECORDINGS

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1982

Conductor: Charles Mackerras
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Elisabeth Söderström (Jenůfa), Eva Randová (Kostelnička), Wieslaw Ochman (Laca).

Although Janáček’s operas were becoming increasingly familiar in the UK, there is no doubt that the visit to Edinburgh with Soderstrom as Jenufa had a shattering impact. Several years had passed before this record was made – it was the last in the Decca series – but she still gives a winning performance, beautifully backed up by Mackerras and the Vienna Philharmonic. The Polish tenor singing Laca has a suitably heroic voice to contrast with Petr Dvorský’s more Italianate sound as Števa. Eva Randová, an experienced Wagner singer at Bayreuth and elsewhere, gives a powerful performance as the Kostelnička. The small roles are all cast from strength, especially the small role of Karolka, the mayor’s daughter who will marry Števa – beautifully sung by Lucia Popp.

CHANDOS (2 mid-price CDs) Sung in English Recorded 2003

Conductor: Charles Mackerras Orchestra of Welsh National Opera Janice Watson (Jenufa), Josephine Barstow (Kostelnička), Nigel Robson (Laca)

Janáček’s operas have a great sense of immediacy in English translation, and the version prepared by Edward Downes in collaboration with Otakar Kraus (a great Czech baritone who came to live in Britain in 1939, created roles in several important operas, and taught most of the wave of great British basses to have emerged in recent years) still works well. Barstow had years of experience sing the title role, as well as Katya and Emilia Marty, and here shows equal stature as the older and less sympathetic figure. Nigel Robson does not have the heroic voice usually expected of Laca, but his singing has a clarity reminiscent of Philip Langridge, which helps him to ride the orchestra. Janice Watson makes a sympathetic heroine, and Peter Wedd a suitably openhearted cad as Števa. Any choice between this version and the older Mackerras recording really comes down to language preference – though the Vienna band does make a plusher sound.

EMI (2 mid-price CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1969

Conductor: Bohumil Gregor
Orchestra of National Theatre Prague
Libuše Domanínská (Jenůfa), Naděžda Kniplová (Kostelnička), Vilém Přibyl (Laca).

This recording comes from the source usually used by Supraphon, but for some reason it has always been made available on EMI. Gregor was an expert conductor of Janáček, and between the two visits in 1964 and 1970 he conducted three of the composer’s operas in Edinburgh. Jenůfa was originally scheduled for inclusion in the second visit, but plans were changed. While the performance is of a very high standard, one factor puts it out of contention today, and that is the edition used. This is the standard version prepared for the first Prague performance in 1916, vital for furthering the composer’s career, but reducing the impact of the work. Like Rimsky’s version of Boris Godunov, it is still of historic importance, and worth hearing, but no longer acceptable as a first choice.

The Cast

Aunt
 
Barena
 mill servant
Foreman
 at the mill
Grandmother Buryjovka
 owner of the mill
Herdswoman
 
Jano
 a shepherd boy
Jenůfa
 
Karolka
 the Mayor's daughter
Kostelnička Buryjovka
 Jenůfa's stepmother
Laca Klemeň
 Števa's half-brother
Maid
 
Mayor
 of the village
Mayor's wife
 
Števa Buryja
 

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