Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jenufa at the Met

Budapest. Camera: Minolta Hi-Matic. Film: Trix400.

For the record, just a few comments about the final Jenufa I saw back on November 17th.

Let us not mince words about the importance of what Karita Mattila has done here. Ten years after defining the role of Jenufa at the Met in the maiden voyage of the Tambosi production, her assumption of the Kostelnicka has single-handedly dispelled the kneejerk view of this role as shrill, unmusical, and bordering on camp.

Mattila's Kostelnicka is a deeply sympathetic character, expressed through soaring music of great beauty and immediacy. Indeed, the gravity of her portrayal and the attention she focuses on the Kostelnicka's music seems to reweight the entire opera. The ease with which the opera makes sense by locating its heart in the Kostelnicka's Act II struggle is quite the revelation, and when the Kostelnicka's time on stage ends somewhat abruptly with her being led away in Act III, one really feels as though the dramatic thrust of the story has come to a close. The work's original Czech title, translated as "Her Stepdaughter," finally makes sense.

It didn't hurt that the Met production's Jenufa, Oksana Dyka, suffered by comparison with memories of Mattila's Jenufa. Oh, how I wanted to find something to like in what Dyka was doing. Her Jenufa emphasizes the character's battiness and trashiness, a valid choice worth supporting. But it's not enough to compensate for a fundamentally unpleasant vocal performance that can't express the musical beauty in a part that really demands it. At base I think it's a fairly unattractive sound, though capable of very focused forte high notes that are solid on their own. But frequent scooping and unsteadiness bedevil the rest of the performance; Jenufa just sounds a bit tipsy throughout. Jenufa's beautiful moments of stasis, the musical and emotional anchors of the opera, just don't really land, and the cost to the overall impression is high.

WNO's recent Siegfried Daniel Brenna showed up here as Laca, with mixed results. I went back and forth on whether that big old bear of a voice, so useful for Siegfried, was wrong for Laca or simply an acquired taste. While Laca's resentment and fury were powerfully realized, the exquisite texture of  Janacek's music was often lost. Between Brenna and Dyka, this was a decidedly rowdy and unsubtle version of the Act I ensemble "All young couples have chesna." Joseph Kaiser has a suitably beautiful voice for Steva, and the looks to match, though he seemed to be marking in the first and third acts during the final performance for some reason.


Lisa Hirsch said...

You've got two Lacas in the post; I see that Kaiser is actually Steva....

We had the same production and Mattila in SF in June, and the rest of the casting was much better than the Met's, as far as I can tell from what you wrote. Malin Bystrom was a steel-spined Jenufa with an interesting, smokey voice; very different from my first Jenufa, Patricia Racette, about 15 years ago. She was an excellent match for Mattila. (FWIW, my second Jenufa was Mattila and I did not love her in the part because she did not come across as a 19 or 20 year old.)

As Steva, we had the excellent Scott Quinn, and our Laca was William Burden, who was fantastic.

Also, Jiri Belohlavek is a genius. I'm sure Robertson was fine, but OMG the orchestra under Belohlavek was unbelievable.

Alex said...

Perils of early morning posting...that's a REALLY tough Moravian village where your choices run from Laca to Laca.

Indeed, not the strongest cast surrounding KM here, but I gather Dyka was a late-ish replacement for the originally scheduled Opolais as Jenufa, which would have made this more competitive.

Robertson was solid, good handling of the little details, but definitely can't touch Belohlavek. SF won this round for sure.