In front of a high bank of greensward and rosemary plant in the foreground, the action begins with Grandmother Buryja and Jenufa peeling large white potatoes. The grandmother immovable and massive until she starts singing. Laca bursts in carrying a switch and bounds up the green slope. Violence begins.
The intricate orchestration tells the story, you don’t have to follow the subtitles, together with the on stage drama and restless motifs, the drip of the mill wheel tells of the tension and frustration of the characters. There seems to be initial hope that Jenufa might escape; she’s just taught a shepherd boy to read.
Twice I had tears rushing down my face. The awful anguish of the stepmother who was trying to give her Jenufa freedom, having protected her from her love for the no good drunken Steva. Something we can all identify with. The set in the second and third acts is a big bare room, with the shutters closed, Jenufa is hidden behind shutters during her pregnancy. The room is then destroyed in the last act, complete with broken glass and the chorus bursting through the windows.
I enjoyed sitting in the stalls very much, just four rows back feeling the double basses big down bows rumbling through our feet. Luckily Janacek rewrote the opera after having been more exposed to of his contemporaries but it owes much his study in folkmusic. The opera is based on Gabriela Preissova’s play, ‘Her Stepdaughter’ (1890) which takes as a starting point two real life incidents, a boy who wounded a girl with a cabbage knife and a stepmother who helped a girl get rid of a baby.
More notes from Gavin Plumley and his blog.