On 13 February 2021, Berlin's Staatsoper Unter den Linden unveiled a new production of Leoš Janáček's Jenůfa, the first of the Moravian composer's eight absolute masterpieces. The production is conceived for HD streaming and TV, but can easily converted to a normal stage when the virus emergency is over. In a couple of months, it will be shown on Mezzo TV. The HD streaming is produced by Teldec. On the opening night, access was reserved for Staatsoper subscribers and a limited number of music critics normally accredited to the theatre.
Jenůfa is a well-known opera, often reviewed in this magazine. Therefore, this review focuses on the salient elements of the production. The staging by Damiano Michieletto and his creative team - sets by Paolo Fantin, customs by Carla Teti and lighting by Alessandro Carletti - takes away almost all the folklore elements (especially in the first act) and also a great deal of those of social criticism, quite important a hundred years ago, when the opera had its debut, but less relevant today. The setting and the customs are not in a specified time and place; the single set is functional to the three acts' different locations just with the change of a few props; the attire seems to fit any place in Central Europe some fifty years ago. In order to de-emphasize folklore, the chorus members are not on the stage: the men are in the first tear, the women in the stalls. This helps the stereophonic effects. Both in the first tear and the stalls there are some orchestra members.
Thus, the opera production focuses on the human tragedy of the five protagonists: Jenůfa, her step-mother the sacristan of the village Church, grandmother Burya and her grandsons, the stepbrothers Steva and Laca. The other minor characters - the village mayor, the foreman, his wife and his daughter, the shepherd, the servant, two girls - are in the background, far from the limelight.
In my view, this is Damiano Michelietto's most engrossing production since his rendering of Bohuslav Martinů's The Greek Passion in Palermo's Teatro Massimo ten year ago - read Christ Re-Crucified, Music & Vision, 3 May 2011.
'The way Janáček wrote the libretto causes this story to speak to humanity, to everyone', says director Damiano Michieletto in an inteview. 'It is the story of a beautiful girl who is pregnant and who wants to be happy together with her lover. The tragedy is taking place because society has a problem with this situation, and this leads to brutal results. I think it is very important not to judge the characters and their actions, but to try to empathize with them and present them from a complex perspective'. The director chooses to focus on characterization and on the psychology, freeing the work from any folkloric aspect. The images are clear and rigorous: they refer to the idea of a coldness, both external and inner, of the rest of the men and women involved in the plot. The acting is superb and can clearly be seen in the close-up shots of a production which will, no doubt, become a successful DVD.
Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Staatskapelle: Janáček's motifs are closely interwoven with a constant attention to support the voices. Camilla Nylund is in the lead role, Hanna Schwarz is the grandmother Burya, Stuart Skelton is Laca Klemeň, Ladislav Elgr is Števa Buryja, Evelyn Herlitzius is the sacristan, Jan Martiník the foreman, David Oštrek the mayor, Natalia Skrycka the mayor's wife, Evelin Novak sings Karolka, Adriane Queiroz, Barena, Aytaj Shikhalizada, the shepherd, Victoria Randem, Jano and Anna Kissjudit, Tetka.
As said, the focus is on the five principals. Camilla Nylund is a tender Jenůfa with a round voice and very well measured acute. Evelyn Herlitzius is a tormented step-mother; she chisels every note and has a splendid middle range as a dramatic soprano. At the age of seventy-seven, Hanna Schwarz handles with extreme ease the role of grandmother Burya and descends to a very low register. Stuart Skelton and Ladislav Elgr are impressive heroic tenors. The only duet: the final hopeful road to redemption by Jenůfa and Laca, is moving and difficult to forget.
An impressive performance.
Copyright © 15 February 2021