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<<  -- 3 --  Rex Harley    STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES


Two of the minor characters deserve particular mention. Alan Fairs, as the mill foreman, was vocally strong and, whether singing or silently observing, constantly in character, as was Claire Hampton's delightful Jana. As for the members of the chorus, they did what they could, but there were moments, especially in the first act, when they were stuck on stage with nothing to do, notably when Kostelnicka expatiates on her earlier, disastrous marriage. This particular passage is one restored by Charles Mackerras, and his collaborator Dr John Tyrell, and while it makes sense as helpful exposition, and as a means of securing a degree of sympathy for the character, it plays havoc with the dramatic action. Up to this point, the relatively tight set has been full of carefully choreographed bustle. Suddenly everything stops dead. As her story of marital brutality unfolds all the chorus can do is pull a few faces at each other, if they're near the front, or freeze as inconspicuously as possible if they're further back. Either way, the effect is downright amateur.

In the end, my feeling is that both the strengths and weaknesses of this production stem from precisely the same source: Sir Charles Mackerras and his scrupulous attention to detail. Orchestrally, the sound is gorgeous and the players clearly raise their game for him. But theatrically there is a price to pay : awkward longeurs, and a text that is both clunky and partially inaudible. The latter could be helped by recourse to surtitles, but there remains a stubborn refusal to employ them when the audience is listening to a performance in their native language. All I would add to this debate is that if those of us in the stalls were hard-pushed to hear the words, what of those up in the Gods?

Under these circumstances I am reluctant to discuss individuals' singing. The major roles -- Jenufa, Lata, Kostelnicka and, to a lesser degree Steva -- are even more challenging vocally than they are dramatically. At moments, all the principals impressed, but not consistently. This is no surprise, considering they had their work cut out competing with the orchestral fireworks emerging from the pit. My final impression was of an unbalanced evening, in which the orchestral element of the drama unfolded with absolute clarity, while reducing what was happening on stage, at times, to a form of histrionics, as the singers strove to deliver.

Copyright © 16 March 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK



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