'Jenüfa' at the Teatro Comunale di
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
On 17 April
2015, with new management and an almost balanced budget, the Teatro
Comunale di Bologna presented a new production of Jenůfa by Leoš
Janáček — a joint effort with Brussels' Théâtre de la Monnaie and with
Moscow's Bolshoi (where it is expected to become part of the repertory).
I was in the audience.
almost a premiere because in the past, Jenůfa had been shown in
Bologna only in 1974 for three performances, as part of Prague National
Theatre's Western European tour. Janáček's operas arrived in Italy after
World War II. Over the last few years there has been a rediscovery. Jenůfa
has been seen at La Scala, in Trieste, in Naples, at the Spoleto Festival
and also in a few provincial theatres. Although Jenůfa's 1904
debut was in Brno, the work reached Prague only twelve years later, after
great success in Germany (in Max Brod's translation), and especially at
the Berlin Staatsoper (under Erich Kleiber).
superficial reading, Jenůfa may seem to be a blood and guts music
drama, similar to those then quite fashionable, such as Cavelleria
Rusticana and Pagliacci. The simple plot revolves around a
pretty girl Jenůfa, vied and contended by two young half brothers, the
extroverted, wealthy social climber Steva and the introverted almost
psychopathic Laça. She is seduced by Steva and becomes pregnant. In a
moment of fury, Laça slashes her cheek. Her step-mother (the Sacristan of
the village Church) takes her to her home in the hills, even though
everyone in the village is told that she is in Vienna. Other than Steva,
nobody knows that she is expecting a baby.
The baby is
born, but Steva does not want to marry Jenůfa: he is now betrothed to the
mayor's daughter. On the contrary, Laça is still in love with the girl.
For the Sacristan, the newly born baby is an obstacle to Jenůfa and
Laça's marriage, so she takes it to the hills and lets it freeze to
death. The body is recovered, merely by chance, during Jenůfa and Laça's
wedding party. The Sacristan recounts the whole story. The mayor's
daughter leaves Steva in disgust. Jenůfa and Laça get much closer
together, forgive the Sacristan and ask for God's mercy.
gruesome plot, integrated with Moravian folk singing and dancing in the
first and third acts, is an apologue of forgiveness as clearly shown by
Jenůfa and Laça's arioso at the end of the opera. During the
previous nearly ninety minutes, the orchestration had been a mosaic of
small themes, often juxtaposed with one another and the vocal score, in
prose not verse, and carefully studied so that each consonant and vowel
had a perfect fit in each note and register.
psychological features and developments of the main characters are
explored much more deeply than in the play on which the opera is based.
More specifically, the plot is intended to have a universal timeless
meaning, not to be a crude drama tightly set in rural Moravia.
he uses two rather simple devices to show the timeless message underlying
the plot: the curtain is replaced by a rotating rose window with
matriarchal art nouveau pictures, and the stage is divided into
two levels. The action takes place on the lower level, counterpointed by
the chorus of villagers (conducted by Andrea Faidutti) above. Also the
first and third acts are set in a Moravian fairytale land, while the
cruel second act takes place around the nineteen fifties, with poor
furniture, an old refrigerator and a black and white television set which
is always on (without sound).
Valčuha conducted the orchestra with great care; each instrumentalist
appeared to be a soloist, sometimes with Moravian folk instruments.
Angeles Blancas Gulin, who often plays young and attractive woman (such
as Cleopatra and Poppea), was made up to look old and became a formidable
Sacristan. Andrea Dankova was the highly dramatic Jenůfa, and Brenden
Gunnell was Laça with a clear timbre and a magnificent high C.
Ales Briscein is the arrogant bullish Steva. A vast number of others,
many of them young Italian singers, counterpoint the principals, all to