It has been a very long time, since a major label has taken the time and money to create a new version of this terrific piece of musical drama. Since the Decca studio version of 1983, all new releases have been live (to preserve the greatness of several artists in various roles), or re-releases of previous studio versions brought about by a lively interest in Janacek and his stage works.
This was a long wait, personally, and we have here a very long rendition of the piece. Timings are much longer than any other renditions of the opera, and it is NOT because of additional music being recorded for the first time. It is due to the reticence of the conductor, Bernard Haitink, to come to grips with the essential nature of the ostinatos rhythms underlying the score. He does not press forward in momentum, as other conductors do, and which I prefer.
If you are fine with hearing every single note and every phrase articulated with precision, this is for you. I do not believe that it adds drama,or a knowing coherency of the work's architecture: it impedes the larger flow of theatrical moments and tension. To be this removed is the choice of the conductor. I have heard a FIDELIO conducted by Haitink that simply blew the audience out of the theatre with dramatic thrust and tension, so I know he is capable of this sort of passion. None of that applies here. The Royal Opera orchestra is wonderful, very clean in their detailed work. The recorded image is good though I'd like more immediacy of the orchestral "voice".
Karitta Mattila has a wonderful upper register. The middle of the voice is problematic - it looses focus and is underpowered. Frequently, I mistake her voice for others when not looking at the libretto.
I even confuse her voice with Anja Silja's at moments. In singing the part of Kostelnicka, Silja's voice is deteriorated beyond the ability to sing this role. She has resources as a vocal actress, yet so much of it is just plain unpleasant, and because we are not being able to see her physical protrayal, means the impact of the role is lessened to a significant degree. I don't feel she dominates the drama as she should. Also in the cast is Eva Randova, who was the wonderful and dramatic Kostelnicka from the Decca recording of 1983 under Charles Mackerras (now there is a conductor who, though slow in tempi also, understood where the arcs of the drama were pointed and what to underscore). Eva Randova, as Grandma Buryja, the head of the family clan, has also deteriorated in her vocal condition, to the point she is barely able to articulate the notes in the phrases. This is unfortunate, because I have a lot of respect for her wonderful recordings of JENUFA and CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN for Mackerras' Decca series. When both Kostelnicka and Grandma Buryja are singing in the same scene, it is very difficult to tell them apart as vocal/dramatic personalities. What a shame. Once again, this takes down the theatrical temperature to a very tepid affair.
The tenor,Jorma Silvestri, would have been most welcome and even wonderful as the braggart and weak Steva. Here he is cast in the heavier role of Laca, which sounds a little past his means, as Mattila does in her's. By the third act, though he continues to sing with attractive tone and security, his impact is also weakened. Jerry Hadley who does sing the part of Steva, shares with Eva Randova, the obstacle of working with the remains of a voice. He is not singing. It comes across as shouting on pitch with a desperate attempt to hold on to the repeated notes when the character is attempting to be manipulative through a certain degree of sensuality. Here he has no ability to finesse the vocal line or project a character. It was a struggle to listen to this section, which has strong folkloric elements that are very engaging, and with some of the most beautiful legato music in the opera. All was lost here, once the fun of a decent tempo for the choral introduction and dance in this scene were past.
The buildup of tension at the end of Act 1, when Jenufa's cheek is slashed by Laca out of jealousy, is also missed. Completely. One hardly knows the act is over, execept for the applause (of an apparently appreciative audience). Act 2 lumps along and the duet of Kostelnicka and Jenufa is too slow to be moving. The decision to kill the baby is without climax. Act 3 actually finds a rhythm that works, though once again slow, and the end though well sung, (Mattila sounds wonderful in this part of the opera) is without significant support from Haitink and so lacks fulfillment.
This could have been a wonderful new addition, but I do not recommend it to anyone. I bought it because I LOVE this work, and am willing to listen to all who choose to embody it.