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<<  -- 2 --  Rex Harley    STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES


Another problem with hearing opera in translation is that, unless the translation is a good one, repeated phrases, far from creating dramatic emphasis, merely sound what they are: repetitious. And banal. If you're translating for surtitles, of course, there are no metrical constraints. Music and language operate separately. Sung, however, the words have to fit. So, when Suzanne Murphy's Kostelnicka breaks down in the final act, and admits to the murder of Jenufa's baby, she is forced to begin her confession with the words ''Twas I', and verismo goes out of the window. The singer is one of three survivors from the earlier, Czech, performance, whose musical director, Daniel Harding commented as follows on his decision to stick with the original language:

For the singers it's a challenge to memorise the words because there's very little to hold on to. But once the words are learned, the music comes naturally from them. It's not a matter of taking two separate things and putting them together. They're naturally one.

But what of the acting in this production? Susan Chilcott caught beautifully the intensity, coloured by a naive optimism, which is at the heart of Jenufa's character. Little moments, especially in Act Two, were heart-rending: her flinging open of the shutters to feel the freezing air on her face and see the moonlight, pointed up the dreadfulness, both of her confinement and the fact that this brief moment of semi-freedom came only from her stepmother's absence, on her mission to drown Jenufa's helpless child. And in the glorious final moments of the opera, when she has forgiven her stepmother, and found it in heart also to love Laca, the man whose knife earlier disfigured her, and whom she will now marry, she was quite radiant.

Nigel Robson as Laca and Suzanne Murphy as Kostelnicka in the 2003 Welsh National Opera production of 'Jenufa'. Photo: Clive Barda
Nigel Robson as Laca and Suzanne Murphy as Kostelnicka in the 2003 Welsh National Opera production of 'Jenufa'. Photo: Clive Barda

Suzanne Murphy, who has her vocal limitations, has always been a convincing actress. She captured Kostelnicka's progress: from a proud and stubborn woman; through the torture of her awful decision to murder the child in order that Jenufa's reputation remain unsullied; to the complete mental collapse engendered by this act, with consummate skill. Nigel Robson, as Lata, spent Act One appropriately bustling around with self-righteous anger, like an overgrown child, then showed us the subtleties of a man moved by the stirrings not merely of thwarted desire, but by genuine love for Jenufa. Peter Wedd's Steva was authentically feckless, though there were times when his characterisation teetered uncomfortably on the edge of caricature.

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Copyright © 16 March 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK


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