Janacek: Jenufa

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Jenufa
PERFORMER: Karita Mattila, Anja Silja, Jorma Silvasti, Jerry Hadley, Eva Randová; ROH Chorus & Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-45330-2
The Royal Opera’s 2001 staging of Jen¤fa was acknowledged as one of the musical highlights of Bernard Haitink’s final season at the House. Fortunately Erato was there to capture it for posterity, making the first non-Czech recording of the opera for over a decade. The first was Charles Mackerras’s pioneering Decca account of the stripped-clean 1908 score made in Vienna in 1982. And it was to that version that I kept returning, for Haitink and Mackerras have very different views of Janážek’s score. Where the Dutchman draws out the music’s warmth and beauty – the scene between Jenufa and Laca in Act II is a case in point – Mackerras goes for the jugular, bringing out the desperation and intensity. And fine as the ROH Orchestra is, nothing can compare with the razor-sharp playing of the Vienna Philharmonic in this music. The result, perversely, is that Decca’s studio recording sounds more like a living piece of drama than the live Erato account. Where Haitink can sound duly tragic, Mackerras strikes terror.

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The casts, however, are fairly evenly matched, though the more balanced studio recording for Decca gives the singers more of a chance. At the ROH, Anja Silja seems to be singing the Kostelnižka’s Act I aria from way back on the stage, while in Vienna’s Sofiensaal Eva Randová has everyone’s attention, though both singers capture the character’s dignity and moral vulnerability. Randová reappears at the ROH as Grandmother Buryja and her wobble has worsened worryingly in the intervening years, while another vocal blemish here is Jerry Hadley’s audible struggle with teva’s higher notes. Jorma Silvasti’s Laca is more sympathetically sung. As for the two Jenufas, Karita Mattila is warmer-voiced than Elisabeth Söderström, but lacks the latter’s febrile qualities, yet I now wouldn’t want to be without either individual performance. As a complete operatic experience, however, Mackerras’s wins hands down. Matthew Rye