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Subject: JENUFA, Royal Northern College of Music, 20 March
From: Andrew Cooper <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Andrew Cooper <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 21 Mar 1999 17:53:03 +0000
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JENUFA is one of my top ten operas, as much as anything because the
music is so emotional.  I could happily see it once a week, and,
indeed, will be seeing this excellent production again next
Thursday. Will any other UK listers be there?  (Or at the intervening
Tuesday performance?)

Jenufa:  Gabriella Lambert-Olsson
Kostelnicka:  Claire Weston
Laca:  Luis Rogruguez-Chapa
Steva:  Roberto Garcia-Lopez
Grandmother:  Jessica Greaves
Jano:  Sarah Tynan
Foreman (Starek):  Simon Bailey
Barena:  Lucy Bates
Karolka:  Victoria Joyce
Mayor:  Julian Close
Mayor's Wife:  Mai-Lung Pun
Maid:  Ruth Trawford
Aunt:  Shelley Coulter-Smith

RNCM Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor:  Noel Davies

Director:  Stefan Janski
Designer:  Peter Ruthven Hall
Lighting:  Philip L Edwards

Translation:  Otakar Kraus and Sir Edward Downes

The version used in this production was that of the original Brno
production of 1908, lovingly excavated by Sir Charles Mackerras and
John Tyrrell.  The programme contains an excellent note on the
opera's early performing history by a fourth-year student at the
College, Daniel Norbury.

The RNCM usually seems to base its choice of opera on the principal
singers at its disposal.  I am sure that this time the choice was
strongly influenced by the availability of Claire Weston, who is now
singing small roles with ENO (e.g. Berta in THE BARBER) but is still
a postgraduate student at the College.  She was quite a good Lady
Billows at the College in 1997, though I noted at the time in my
report to opera-l that she seemed to be showing some strain at the
end of the run.  This time, after only one previous performance, she
was in very good voice with strong well-centred tone, though the
words were not ideally clear (and I could have done with more
dramatic intensity - but Tinsley, Silja and Barstow are a hard team
to beat in this department). Actually, though everyone was singing in
English, the College provided surtitles.  I was initially dubious
about this, but was grateful on the whole, considering the polyglot
nature of the cast.

The Swedish Jenufa was satisfactory, but rather angular and a little
lacking in passion.  Rodriguez-Chapa (from Mexico) has a very nice
voice, but to me it seemed too Italianate for the role of Laca, where
more steel is required, in my opinion (OK, I'm remembering Jon
Vickers - but who could forget him in this role, or any role, once
seen?). Again, some dramatic intensity was lacking, especially in the
first act. The little scene where Laca hands Kostelnicka her shawl
was revealed in the Opera North production as crucial, thanks to
Barstow, Julian Gavin and producer Tom Cairns;  I felt that Janski
had missed a couple of tricks here.

I was a little disappointed with the Argentinian Steva.  First, he
was insufficiently glamorous (one had to suppose that his
attractiveness to the girls was based on his money), though
carefully costumed in natty check three-piece suit, and second, his
hair was dark, not fair - so Kostelnicka's reference in Act 2 to the
baby having fair hair like Steva seemed ridiculous.  His voice was OK
but rather small.  I wouldn't have spotted, though, that he was a
converted baritone.

Among the smaller parts, there was a strong Jano, a nice-voiced
Verdian-sounding (so a little miscast here) Foreman, a
too-young-looking but vocally good grandmother, and excellent
characterisation from the Mayor, his wife and their daughter Karolka.

I thought very highly of the '97 ALBERT HERRING production by Stefan
Janski, designed by Peter Ruthven Hall.  The same team have done it
again - a realistic Act 1 outdoor setting with dry-stone walls, a
"real" mill-wheel that, correctly, turned when the xlylophone decreed
it, followed by an Act 2/3 interior with prominent exterior door and
a sideways-on window to the right and a door to Jenufa's room at the
back.  After the discovery of the baby's body in the last act, a
brick is thrown through the window, followed by the arrival of the
excellent chorus with spades and pick-axes - an equally frightening
effect to that in the recent Glyndebourne production, and similarly
valid.  The final scenes, as ever, brought a lump to the throat and
tears to the eyes, and the whole performance was tremendously
accompanied by the experienced Noel Davies and the heroic RNCM
orchestra.  I'm already looking forward to Thursday!

Andrew Cooper ([log in to unmask])
UK operatic pages:  http://www.personal.leeds.ac.uk/~lib6arc/

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