[Met Performance] CID:350461
New Production
Jenufa {32} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/13/2003.

(Debuts: Kim Begley, Christopher Ventris, Olivier Tambosi, Frank Philipp Schlössmann
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 13, 2003
New Production


JENUFA {32}
Janácek-Janácek

Jenufa..................Karita Mattila
Laca....................Kim Begley [Debut]
Kostelnicka.............Deborah Polaski
Steva...................Christopher Ventris [Debut]
Grandmother.............Sheila Nadler
Jano....................Yvonne Gonzales Redman
Foreman.................James Courtney
Barena..................Rachelle Durkin
Maid....................Diane Elias
Mayor...................Paul Plishka
Mayor's Wife............Jane Shaulis
Karolka.................Korliss Uecker
Aunt....................Diane Curry

Conductor...............Vladimir Jurowski

Production..............Olivier Tambosi [Debut]
Designer................Frank Philipp Schlössmann [Debut]
Lighting Designer.......Max Keller

Jenufa received eight performances this season.

The production a gift of the Catherine and Ephraim Gildor Foundation

Review of Joshua Rosenblum in the April 2003 issue of OPERA NEWS

Star performances from Karita Mattila and Deborah Polsaski outshone Oliver Tambosi's new production of Jenufa at the Met.


The Met's new production of Janáceks "Jenufa" (seen Jan. 13), the third in its history, was a chance to see a memorably felicitous pairing of artist and role in Karita Mattla's emotionally layered, vocally splendid turn in the title role. Jenufa is never the engine of this opera, but as portrayed by Mattila, she was certainly its anchor. What was truly revelatory about her performance was nor simply her characteristically radiant sound, with its controlled, even tone from top to bottom, and her ability to sustain tension while producing a freely flowing line; more than this, she successfully underwent a credible transformation from an impulsive girl to an almost holy but still very human woman, saddened by experience but redeemed by the power of love and forgiveness. Her Act II monologue and prayer were easily the musical and emotional highlight of the evening - especially the precise moment in her miserable hallucination when she (and we) somehow knew her baby was being drowned.

The opera was every bit as much a triumph for Deborah Pulaski in the strenuous, more dramatically pivotal role of Kolstelnicka, the village sacristan and Jenufa's stepmother. Singing a part that in places almost demands to be shrieked (and on recordings frequently is), Pulaski preserved musical integrity at all times but was no less dramatic for it. Her singing sustained the necessary edge required by the character but contained enough roundness that it never created discomfort. She also managed beautifully tapered phrases in the rare soft passages, such as her desperate plea to Steva that he marry Jenufa after she has borne his child.

Despite these extraordinary central performances, much of the drama had muted impact, and most of the blame for this must fall on the production. The conceptual, abstract design - the primary elements of which were a pair of oppressive, floor-to-ceiling, wood-paneled walls and an enormous, brain-shaped rock formation in the middle of the Kostelnicka's living room - could not be more wrong for this gritty, realistic opera. This is not to say that every production must preserve the folkloric specifics of Janácek's portrait of Moravian peasant life, but instead of universalizing the characters, which seems to have been the intention, director Olivier Tambosi and his design team (set and costume designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann and lighting designer Max Keller) turned them into archetypes, thus denying us the opportunity to watch real people struggling to live their lives.

For the most part, the Met orchestra, under the wonderfully nuanced baton of Vladimir Jurowski, played up to its usual lofty standard, although the normally blood-curdling instrumental finale to Act II was oddly lifeless. (The flat staging didn't help.) There were some [first]-night ensemble problems, particularly during the two choral numbers, but Jurowski was crystal-clear in both technique and intention, and most of the playing reflected his passionate involvement.

Tenor Christopher Ventris, in a bravura Met debut, played Steva with a robust physical and vocal swagger that made clear how he could simultaneously captivate Jenufa and make her miserable. As Laca, English tenor Kim Begley, also a Met debutant, was appropriately steady and serious, then full-blooded in his dramatically crucial declarations of love for Jenufa. Vividly etched supporting performances came from James Courtney, Jane Shaulis and Korliss Uecker, Sheila Nadler, as Grandmother Buryja, bore the family history with dignity, although Tambosi gave her little to do. Despite the misguided design, the performance rarely lost its momentum, and the music-making was easily at the level that this early twentieth-century masterwork deserves.



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