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Subject: Met Opera's Jenufa is yet another example of awesome opera (10-28-16)
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Date:Sat, 29 Oct 2016 14:01:53 +0000
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Last night was the first performance this season of the almost 13-year old production of Janacek's beautiful Jenufa by Olivier Tambosi with sets and costumes by Frank Philipp Schlossman. 
I have seen some amazing Jenufa productions, most recently with Patricia Racette and Catherine Malfitano in DC, but the one that always comes to mind is the 2001 Salzburg production where Karita Mattila took on the title role with Hildegard Behrens as her step-mother and was sadly the last tie I saw the great Jerry Hadley sing (and what a stellar Laca he was). 
This cast offers nothing less and is indeed also stellar across the board down to the smaller roles of even the Mayor and his wife with such luxury casting! 
Conductor-David Robertson 
  
Jenufa-Oksana Dyka 
Grandmother-Hanna Schwarz 
Laca-Daniel Brenna(role debut) 
Jano-Ying Fang 
Foreman-Bradley Garvin 
Kostelnicka-Karita Mattila 
Steva-Joseph Kaiser 
Barena-Disella Larusdottir 
Old Sheperdess-Maria Zifchak 
Mayor-Richard Bernstein 
Mayor's Wife-Elizabeth Bishop 
Karolka-Clarissa Lyons(debut) 
Aunt-Sara Couden(debut) 
  
Some folks don't like this set with its two huge clapboard dark wood vertical plans that are set up on either side tapering towards the rear; I love it. 
At first the rear is open to a blue sky and bright yellow wheat fields with a rock starting to break through the reverse V-shaped plank floor at the center. The costumes are somber; very dark for the older women and gray for the rest. 
I had heard Ms. Dyka in the Met HD of Prince Igor and loved her then, she was even better here, truly occupying and owning the role of Jenufa, imbuing her with youthful spirit at first and truly developing as each act progressed and she became more serious (I do not wish to use the word mature, although that does apply as well). 
Mr. Brenna also owns this role for me today. His debut gave us a tentative and fearful Laca at the start and his powerful voice was really awesome throughout the entire evening. This was only my second hearing (well, third, I guess) as his Siegfried in the WNO Ring earlier this year was so stellar. When he declared his love for Jenufa to the foreman amidst the agitated music, he really burst out and I almost jumped in my seat. 
Ms. Schwarz had an almost aloof indifference to her Grandmother Buryja, and her age made her suited for this role so well as she hobbled around with her cane. 
This was my second outing with Ying Fang as a shepherd (Tannhauser last year) at the Met and she really looked the part with a little cap and boys outfit. I recall my first time hearing her at Wolf Trap as Cleopatra and then her DC recital debut last year and only pray that she will graduate to bigger roles as she is truly worthy of them! 
The chorus must also get great credit as they were impressive, especially in Act I. 
What can one say about Ms. Mattila who has now moved on from the title role and truly has had a great career and continues so strong. I remember seeing Rysanek and then Behrens and most recently Malfitano, and this is a role that can indeed steal the show. She chose to blend and while she dominated, she never overtook the piece. Her first entrance had the chorus and cast silent and the tension was so thick, you could indeed cut it with a knife. 
Mr. Kaiser was also a strong tenor and impressive as Steva. When he fell asleep drunk, Ms. Mattila tells her life story and we are all moved almost to tears for her abuse by her late husband (Jenufa's father) and all I can think of is the news I hear today and how the world is still full of abusive people. 
The pleas by Ms. Dyka to Steva to behave offered us some gorgeous high notes and I loved the way Laca used his knife to whittle the flower away that Steva gave her right before he slashes he cheek at the end of the act. 
  
The set closes at the rear for Act II and gives us a pointed reverse "V" enclosed and almost claustrophobic room with a huge boulder (say 20 feet across) having now emerged throught the floor to occupy the entire center of the set. At first Jenufa clings to the boulder almost as a refuge. 
When she says the 8-day old child has been quiet, Kostelnicka negates her by saying that soon he will be screaming and she raises her hand as if to strike in the most dramatic of movements. This drama is inherent to the roles Ms. Mattila takes on and here it was truly at its best. She raises her arms again later against Jenufa, but again does not strike. She later kneels and screams when she considers killing the child; it was blood curdling full of gut-wrenching screams and beautifully angst-ridden. 
As she takes the baby outside, the rear panels move open just a bit and snow falls fast against a black sky. Jenufa crawls forward from behind the rock where she had fallen asleep calling "Mamichka" and the scene builds to a scream as she runs into the "door" and falls down. This is followed by her soaring prayer to the Virgin Mary with piercing high notes that filled the house. 
When her step-mother returns to tell her the baby is dead, Ms. Mattila intones that the face of death is staring at her in the deepest of voices that penetrated into my very soul. 
  
Act III had the walls back to the side and brocken rocks all over the stage of various sizes; a reddish brown rocky hill is at the rear. Jenufa is in a severe black high necked gown and has now become very serious; her life is never going to be the same. Ms. Mattila again soars with her declaration that a long life for her would be horrible. Mr. Brenna's Laca has a classy 3-piece suit and he is all in black as well he has matured and grown as well and offers some of the best soaring tenor high notes here of the night. 
Ms. Lyons in her Met debut showed us her talent this summer at Wolf Trap and shone in the perky role. Her Steva is now in a gray snazzy suit and boater hat. It is interesting to note that when she suggests she might not marry Steva, he uses the same words as Jenufa did with him in Act I "I'll kill myself!" 
Again, the luxury casting here was superb. It is a short act (35 minutes) and the action moves so fast that when Kostelnicka says Jenufa must not go to see the dead baby, she is indeed already gone. 
The townsfolk pick up the small stones on the stage to throw at and stone Jenufa as they think she is guilty; this was a brilliant effect considering the set choice. 
The final moments have Kostelnicka being led off as the music has a massive crescendo and then silences for Jenufa and Laca to have their duet of reconciliation as the music again crescendos to a massive climax as they move closer and closer and almost barely touch hands as the set goes dark and the opera ends. 
It is a magical opera full of intensity and there was not a down second in last nights opening. BRAVI to all! 

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC 


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