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Jenůfa, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - a variegated but gorgeous bouquet | reviews, news & interviews

Jenůfa, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - a variegated but gorgeous bouquet

Jenůfa, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - a variegated but gorgeous bouquet

Iron fist in velvet glove for Janáček's tale of horror and hope in a rural community

Agneta Eichenholz as beleaguered village gril Jenufa, with Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony OrchestraAll images by Mark Allan

An inexhaustible masterpiece shows different facets with each new interpretation. I’d thought of Jenůfa, Janáček's searing tale of Moravian village life based on a great play by a pioneering woman (Gabriela Preissová), as an open razor rushing through the world, cutting left and right. Simon Rattle presented instead an opulent bouquet, one slowly purged of the poisonous blooms within it.

Last year’s concert performance of Káťa Kabanová offered a more obvious candidate for luminous lyricism. Jenůfa, an earlier work not without problems, rather than great originalities, of orchestration, needed a more special pleading as a great beauty. It got it, chiefly through the high-definition glories of the London Symphony Orchestra, with every twitch and stab integrated within the richest of sounds, but also in the casting of the two main female roles (Preissová set the bar high for strong women, and Janáček intensifies it).

The role of the proud, intelligent village girl who learns fast through suffering was to have been sung by Asmik Grigoryan, singing actor of the moment. She withdrew, but at least we’d seen what she could do so movingly at the Royal Opera, and Agneta Eichenholz – a compelling Covent Garden Lulu back in 2009 – showed what could be achieved in an unstaged concert performance by economy of physical gesture matched to a luminous upper register, powerful when needed. LSO leader Benjamin Gilmore made the perfect instrumental companion for her distress and prayer in Act Two.Katarina Karneus and Ales Briscein in 'Jenufa'More of a surprise in casting was another Swede, former BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Katerina Karnéus (pictured above with Aleš Briscein), as Jenůfa’s stepmother, a woman understandably embittered by male brutality and wanting a better life for the girl than marriage to the feckless Števa. The Kostelnička’s terrible decision to take one very young life in the cause of saving two others dear to her needs a performance in Act Two that goes to the limits, and in the unrelenting light of the concert hall, Karnéus briefly faltered. The characterisation tended to favour outward severity at the expense of the inward rage that teeters on the edge of madness. Even so, the mezzo voice is thrilling at both ends of the range, the Act Three confessional delivered, and there’s no doubt that under the best of directors Karnéus will flourish in the role.

The two men in Jenůfa’s life were, as usual, superbly taken. Nicky Spence has sung both roles, but he certainly has the arrogant and weak Števa down to the most telling small gesture; of the varying levels of acting-out, his was the most outwardly impressive (surely the music stands could have been discarded in this most dramatic and pacy of music dramas?). Now that Philip Langridge is no longer with us, Aleš Briscein is the best Laca you’ll hear in the world today: an eastern European tenor voice which can cut like a knife for the sidelined man’s restlessness and jealousy, but also sear the soul with his full-hearted expressions of love – moving to tears in the last act. So was the epilogue, as it has to be: lives potentially ruined, Jenůfa declares she still wants to face a difficult future with Laca. Voices flamed, the string heartsurges seemed to go on for ever, in a good way, and we left uplifted – the edge that this opera, and other later inspirations, will always have over the bleak finality of Káťa Kabanová. Cast of LSO 'Jenufa'As we’ve come to expect from Rattle’s concert operas, the supporting cast was uniformly superb. I didn’t know Evelin Novak, singing the late-arriving but not insignificant role of the Mayor’s daughter Karolka, with whom Števa seems genuinely in love; here’s another lyric soprano of whom one wants to see and hear more, and likewise Erika Baikoff as the shepherd boy (or in this case girl?) Jenůfa has taught to read, slightly indulged for the beauty of sound over impetuous drama, but a stand-out. Familiarly so were Claire Barnett-Jones, Carole Wilson – wouldn’t you love to see her Mrs Lovett, a role she’s sung at Brussel’s La Monnaie? – and Czech bass Jan Martiník, doubling as Foreman and Mayor. Impressively professional and dramatic results, too, from the (amateur) London Symphony Chorus, well coached by Simon Halsey to project as roaring boys and enthusiastic village girls (the wedding chorus was a joy). What a start to the operatic new year in London, with another emotional rollercoaster, Strauss’s Elektra, to follow at the Royal Opera tonight.

Aleš Briscein is the best Laca you’ll hear in the world today: a Czech tenor voice which can cut like a knife but also sear in declarations of love

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

It is a great opera with wonderful music.

It was exhilarating to hear Rattle put the peddle to the metal (especially with LSO in great form) and enjoy the music.  As a concert perfomrance of "classical" music I really enjoyed the evening.

As an opera -  not so sure.  When I could hear of the singers, they were fine, but frequentlyI could not hear them.   Bit surprised given Rattle performs opera regulalry enough.

The Barbican can be notoriously various with the listening experience (as I know from hearing the three acts of the BBCSO Tristan from different seats). All good for me, but I was near the front.

I was at the second, Sunday, performance, sitting a row or two back in the Circle. The singers, especially Eichenholz, were quite hard to hear at first over the (terrific) orchestra.  Mid-way through the first act it became clearer.  I don't know if this was my ears compensating or the singers upping their volume, but the balance improved hugely from then on.

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