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Passion and Commitment

English National Opera's 'Jenufa',
appreciated by ROBERT HUGILL


English National Opera's new production of Janácek's Jenufa is a co-production with Houston Grand Opera and has already been seen there with Catherine Malfitano as Kostelnicka, a role she repeated in London. David Alden's production was in his usual style, with stylised, pared-down visuals. Designers Charles Edwards (sets) and John Morrell (costumes) set the opera in a grim, monochrome 1950s, where the mill becomes a factory.

Jenufa is the most conventional of Janácek's mature operas, but the long process of revision that Janácek undertook after the opera's first performance means that the opera is still not very close to the traditional verismo opera that inspired it. Alden's decision to set the piece in a grim no-man's land only emphasises this; any local colour left in by Janácek (the folk dances in Acts 1 and 3 for example) are used by Alden to point up character rather than to add folksy elements.

Sometimes, this style of production tends to stretch or falsify the drama in order to make a particular point, but here Alden stuck admirably to Janácek's storyline. Jenufa is essentially an opera about the interaction of characters and all the information is in the music; Alden respected this and gave us Janácek's Jenufa, albeit in a stripped down and concentrated form.

We first saw Jenufa (Amanda Roocroft) carrying her rosemary plant in a pot. In Alden's world, Jenufa's attachment to the plant seemed even more hopeless than usual in the grim factory setting inhabited by her family. Grandmother Burya (the ever wonderful Susan Gorton) became some sort of factory supervisor, with her own little booth.

Stuart Skelton's Laca was first seen doing manual work with a lathe at the back of the stage. Skelton created Laca as a stumbling, inhibited person; truly inarticulate, unable to communicate what he feels. Tellingly, the only time that Laca touched Jenufa before the final love duet, was in the scene where he lashed out and cut her face.

Paul Charles Clarke's Steve was a leather-wearing, Harley Davison riding good for nothing. Clarke's voice has both the lyricism and the grit necessary to make a success of this role. Part of Alden's point was that neither of the brothers is particularly attractive, so Jenufa's choices were necessarily constrained.

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Copyright © 4 November 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK


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