Concerts & Opera

A musically very rich opera, full of emotions



Janáček’s opera Jenůfa at Vienna State Opera conducted by Ingo Metzmacher

It was exciting for me, as a Pountney enthusiast, to watch Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s opera Jenůfa, premiered in 1904 at the Brno Opera, in its 34th performance at the Vienna State Opera with David Pountney’s production. English director David Pountney is known for staging Janáček’s 8 operas, including little known operas of the composer.  

Pountney’s Jenůfa production isn’t new for the Vienna State Opera; it was also performed in the beginning of the 2000s. It is a plain, even gloomy production but coherent with the work’s structure. Act 1 opens into the inside of a mill and goes along among the huge wheels of the mill, which can be considered as the “wheels of destiny”. Colours are dull; grey, pale yellow and green are dominant; a heavy and oppressive atmosphere; emphasizing is done by light games and lightings in this bleak setting. In Act 2, giant sacks are piled up to the ceiling in the background; two doors are noticeable through the sacks; as the opera endures, it is understood that one of them opens to a room (Jenůfa’s mother will shove her daughter in here for her to sleep; hence it rather gives the impression of a cell door) and the other one opens outside. There seems to be no other connection with the outside world. Act 3 opens into a huge, empty barn; a long dinner table and a few wooden chairs are placed in the middle. That’s all. It was the most impressive scene of the production. Once the curtain rises, two black silhouettes sitting still, opposing each other like in the shadow plays, among the high hangar walls, draw people’s attention. Later, with the upcoming wedding dinner preparations, the place livens up. It’s a very beautiful scene, the most impressive Act. Costumes (Marie-Jeanne Lecca) are also much unadorned (except for Act 3), reduced to single colours (khaki, grey, black), matching with the rural clothes of the 19th century Moravian province where the event takes place.        

Performed in its original language, the story has (basically) four main characters. Jenůfa, whose name is given to the piece, is performed by the German soprano Dorothea Röschmann. Röschmann has a powerful voice; full of colour, round, rich and emotional. Rather than straight, melodic arias like in Puccini or Verdi’s operas, this work is full of  expression, that requires the voice to constantly fluctuate between low and high notes and in that, it is quite difficult. It is full of musical sentences with intense expression somewhat turning into screams when high notes are reached.

A superb voice control, a very good declamation, clear high notes, and a genuine sensuality: that’s Dorothea Röschmann’s interpretation. In the role of Kostelnicka, her stepmother Angela Denoke is a soprano who has a strong personality, and a great control and sparkling voice in sudden tone changes and voice fluctuations. It is hard to say that her voice has a sweet tone, however she has the proper tone for Kostelnicka character who is a tough mannered woman, and she has an impressive expression density. The expression power of duets between her and Jenůfa are fascinating. As playing Laca Klemen who is crazy about Jenůfa, Christian Franz has almost the strength and radiance of a heldentenor, his voice is clear on high notes and has fine nuances and a very good intonation. He is also a good actor. As for Martian Talaba’s Steva; although he has a strong, melodic, bright tenor voice in medium and high notes, his voice stands a little back from the orchestra in lower tones. As to his dramatic play, we think Steva as being more comfortable, with more self-esteem and more in the foreground as a character. Aura Twarowska as grandmother Buryjovka, performed the introvert, old character nicely with her deep, syrupy mezzosoprano voice. The remainder of the cast was also very good.  

Conductor Ingo Metzmacher conducted Vienna State Opera Orchestra with an incredible energy and sensibility (the lyricism in Act 2 was unforgettable), focusing on dramatic strength. The harmony between the orchestra and the conductor was one of the main elements that made the performance even more impressive. 

Ayşe Öktem

Photos: Michael Pöhn



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