[Met Performance] CID:239600
New Production
Jenufa {7} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/15/1974.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 15, 1974
In English
New Production


JENUFA {7}
JanŠcek-PreissovŠ

Jenufa..................Teresa Kubiak
Laca....................Jon Vickers
Kostelnicka.............Astrid Varnay
Steva...................William Lewis
Grandmother.............Jean Kraft
Jano....................Betsy Norden
Foreman.................John Reardon
Barena..................Loretta Di Franco
Maid....................Shirley Love
Mayor...................Richard T. Gill
Mayor's Wife............Carlotta Ordassy
Karolka.................Alma Jean Smith
Aunt....................Lorraine Keane

Conductor...............John Nelson

Production..............GŁnther Rennert
Designer................GŁnther Schneider-Siemssen
Associate Designer......David Reppa

Translation by Otakar Kraus and Edward Downes

Jenufa received seven performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. DeWitt Wallace

Review of Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times

MET STAGES A 'JENUFA' TO ENDURE

Leos Janacek's "Jenufa" - veristic, lyric, intense, compassionate - returned to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera Friday night after a 50-year absence. That time it was in the repertory for only one season. This time it will be around for seasons to come.

For what sounded rather crude 50 years ago now emerges as example of truth in music. Janacek is not out to create pretty sounds or show-stopping arias. He had a grim subject to work with. Betrayal, infanticide, emotional torment - those are the elements of "Jenufa." But, as at the end of the "Ring" cycle, there is redemption. Two souls are cleansed.

Janacek was an unusual man. Working in a provincial center in Moravia, he heard different things than his contemporaries did. For its day - 1904 - "Jenufa" is remarkably modern. Not modern in the Schoenbergian sense, for Janacek was not that formidable an innovator, but modern in its realism, its lack of sentimentality, its refusal to kow tow to conventional operatic formulae.

The music of "Jenufa" is remarkably subtle. True, there is a liberal quotation of Moravian folk-sounding melody. Indeed, the nationalistic "melos" permeates every note of the opera. But the arias and ensembles are mostly short and compressed, and the orchestra carries a good share of the burden, commenting on the action and linking everything together.

It is good to report that for the most part the Metropolitan Opera has done handsomely with the work. The sets by GŁnther Schneider-Simesen are naturalistic, though with a predominantly gray-color scheme that adds a brooding and symbolic quality to the presentation.

GŁnther Rennert's staging is natural and uncomplicated, with everything pointed at the leading characters. There was a nice touch during the dances in Act I, where Mr. Rennert avoided using the corps de ballet. In keeping with the verismo of "Jenufa." he had the "villagers" themselves dance - tall and short, fat and slim, all having a good time. And, incidentally, dancing very well.

Nobody expects a Czech opera at the Metropolitan to be sung in the original language. An English translation by Otakar Kraus and Edward Downes was used. But, as far as intelligibility goes, the diction could just as well have resembled Czech. Or Choctaw, or Outer Mongolian. "Jenufa" has set a record for sheer verbal unintelligibility. Part of this stems from Janacek's peculiar vocal lines, which are so tied up with the sounds of his native tongue. But the cast should not go unreprimanded for some of its inability to come to terms with the basic needs of the text.

Leading singers were Teresa Kubiak (Jenufa), Jon Vickers (Laca), William Lewis (Steva), Astrid Varnay (Kostelnicka), Jean Kraft (Grandmother), and John Reardon (Starek). They collaborated for a strong, believable performance and this despite certain liabilities. Miss Kubiak and Mr. Vickers, for instance, still have rudiments of the old-fashioned windmill, arms-waving school of operatic acting. But when the chips were down, they came strongly forward. Both had a suppressed intensity that captured the big moments.

Miss Kubiak has a strong, clear voice that loses quality just a bit on fortissimo high notes. Would that all singers, however, had her reliability and musicianship. As Laca, Mr. Vickers added another strong performance to his repertory; the role is peculiarly fit for his kind of bull-like strength and almost manic quality.

The veteran of the cast, Miss Varnay, gave a powerfully characterized performance of Kostelnicka. Even if her voice is no longer under full control, she has the kind of vocal and dramatic ability that dominates any stage. Mr. Lewis was properly petulant and caddish, and he came out with some impressive strong singing.



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