Jenufa ties with The Cunning Little Vixen as Janacek's best opera(I really cannot decide which is my favourite of the two). I do prefer the Roberta Alexander/Anja Silja performance, but this is a worthy production from Liceu. The settings and costumes are minimal and rather drab and over-sized. And I also think stage director Olivier Tambosi takes the stone metaphor of the opera too literally, and emphasises it too much in rather a heavy-handed way. These however are just a matter of taste above all else.
There is much to love though. The staging is mostly compelling, and I think the commitment of the leads plays a large part in that. The orchestral playing is clear and incisive, with attention to texture and blending of parts. There is nothing schmaltzy about their style of playing here. The chorus of villagers are animated and attentive to the drama as well as singing beautifully, while the supporting players perform their roles with distinction, the Karolka is especially good. Peter Schneider occasionally drags things out too much, but overall it is a powerful reading of the score if not quite erasing memories of Charles Mackerras.
And then we have the leads. If there is anything I do prefer over the Alexander/Silja, it is the performance of Jenufa. I liked Alexander very much in the role, more than some people did anyhow, but Nina Stemme I find even more ideal. She sings with a strong, confident sound(not surprising as she does have experience in Wagner, with Isolde and Brunnhilde, and heavy Verdi roles with Aida and the Forza Leonora), and she is very emotive especially in Act 1. Eva Marton has Kostelnickas like Silja and Astrid Varnay to compete with and she is almost in their class in her best all-round performance since her 1989 Elektra, she successfully dominates the drama as Kostelnicka should and while past prime vocally(she has been since as far as 1988) her experience in Wagner and Strauss serves her well. Jorma Silvasti's Laca is compassionate and beautifully sung. Some may find him a little too lyrical, but I actually kind of liked that. Contrasting, Pär Linskog is not quite as musical as Silvasti but is appropriately flamboyant and clueless.
Overall, not perfect but the four leads are outstanding and make it well worth the watch and in the end wholly satisfying. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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