on 17 March 2003
... There are always problems in transferring live performances onto record, luckily for these superlative performances of Jenufa from Covent Garden last autumn it was only Olivier Tambosi's production that was not a focal point. The highlights of this new set are many, not least Anja Silja's return to the role of the Kostelnicka, Karita Mattila's first appearance in the title-role in Britain, and the outstanding Laca of Jorma Silvasti. It was surprising that Bernard Haitink chose this work out of all the opera repertory he has sought to make his own to conduct in his final season at Covent Garden. His other choice, Tristan und Isolde, was a more obvious choice (something he walked towards throughout his Covent Garden career) and which was very much 'his'. He does not have the command of some of his counterparts, yet these performances are fine enough.
Those used to the pace of the Mackerras release on Decca, or the more rugged interpretations on Supraphon will find Haitink's more romantic measure of this version sometimes at odds with the drama (as with Vladimir Jurovski at the Met performances recently). It is beautifully played by the Covent Garden orchestra, but, as with the Vienna Philharmonic under Mackerras, perhaps too beautifully. The stamping of the live performance will be found distracting by some keen on the purity of the studio situation, but I felt it was almost a blessing at times, and makes the conscripts scene in Act One full of enthusiasm. Haitink does invest much in the specifics of the score, rather than merely revelling in the powerful pace of Janacek's drama, and this is no bad thing. Orchestral solos and the more transparent textures of the Brno 1908 version of the score used on this recording (edited by Mackerras and John Tyrrell) benefit greatly from Haitink's attention to detail.
The two lead women are outstanding. Anja Silja may be a little too old for the opera in the theatre, but her voice and presence here on disc surely make her the Kostelnicka of recent times. Her tirades as the Kostelnièka are among the most frightening I have heard, and she is perhaps even more perspicacious than Eva Randová under Mackerras. Randová, incidentally, appears on the present record as the Grandmother, a touching point of casting and a reminder of the old Decca recording guard. Karita Mattila excels in the title-role. The prayer in Act Two (as on her 'Scenes and Arias' release) is intense yet lyrical and her scenes with Laca and Števa are well drawn. At these more introverted moments the beauty of the orchestra's playing is most welcome.
Although not the main selling point of this new release, Jorma Silvasti is a strident Laca, a tenor with much to give in this repertoire (more recently Laca under Ozawa in Vienna). His moments of reflection with Jenufa, as well as his performance in Act Three, are charming, and his more vitriolic jealous turns are stronger than previous more wimpish interpretations have had us believe. Jerry Hadley as Števa, on the other hand, is not quite the equal of the other principals. His drunkenness in Act One is perhaps a little too vulgar and his voice does show strain in his forgiveness scene with Mattila (Disc 1, Track 7, 5:20) giving little indication of his previous achievements, both on disc (particular in Weill's Street Scene and The Rake's Progress) and in the theatre. I cannot imagine that when he sang Laca at Salzburg it was comparable to Jorma Silvasti's here. The rest of the cast is uniformly sound (particular note going to Jonathan Veira's foreman), and, as ever, the Royal Opera Chorus excels. Some moments in the sound come across as slightly distant because of the relation between pit and stage, but generally it is good, with the orchestra detail (as mentioned above) being particularly lucid. The booklet is beautifully presented, with many photos of the Covent Garden cast. After the detail of John Tyrrell's notes in the Mackerras Decca recording, the single essay in Erato's booklet is a slight disappointment. Some not knowing the production live will find the photos of Frank Philipp Schlössmann's set full of boulders bizarre, but I promise the same was true in the theatre. The recording is, all in all, a great new release (if lacking some of the fire of the Mackerras) and a welcome reminder of this generally fine cast, now thankfully devoid of the asinine production. A delightful addition to the Janacek discography...
I attended one of the performances that led to this recording, and I can testify, as indeed can this superb release by Erato, that an exceptionally fine performance of Janacek's breakthrough opera becomes simply perfect in the deeply moving final scene.
With respect to my fellow reviewer, the production was not asinine, instead rooted in the pastoralism (parochialism?) of the village setting; the boulder a metaphor for the burdensome secret that is revealed in the final act. Mattila and Silvastri are simply perfect as Jenufa and Laca, and the production even boasts such legends as Silja and Randova, ably conducted by the perpetually underrated Haitink. believe it or not, Mackerras is not the only Janacek conductor. He certainly wasn't the first. Give me Rafael Kubelik any day!
Perfect for anyone new to Janacek.
on 13 July 2013
I was lucky enough to see this performed at Covent Garden, and I floated home afterwards.
Everything about it was wonderful, the sets and costumes, the orchestral playing, Bernard Haitink's farewell, and the acting and singing simply superb.
I cannot recommend this highly enough. I just wish the cameras had been there to record it so I could have it on BLu Ray.
I told myself that if I were never able to go to the opera again, it wouldn't matter, as I had seen perfection.
Never before have I seen standing ovations at each interval, as well as at the end of a performance. And they were well deserved!