Janacek: Jenufa (in English)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Chandos Opera in English
WORKS: Jenufa (in English)
PERFORMER: Janice Watson, Josephine Barstow, Peter Wedd, Nigel Robson, Neal Davies, Alan Fairs, Elizabeth Vaughan, Marion McCullough; Welsh National Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
Welsh National Opera’s track record with Janácek in general, and Jenufa in particular, is long and distinguished. Few will forget Pauline Tinsley’s definitive reading of the Kostelnicka or Richard Armstrong’s superbly idiomatic conducting. This present recording of the opera is a worthy successor to this well-founded tradition. Mackerras uses the now more-or-less standard edition of the opera which incorporates Janácek’s revisions but leaves out the adjustments made to the orchestration for the Prague premiere by Kovarovic. If the result is more angular, shorn of Kovarovic’s Romantic glow it is certainly more immediate in dramatic impact. The tempi adopted by Mackerras are very close to those in his landmark Decca recording of 1982: slightly broader in the first two acts and a touch brisker in the third. There is, however, a greater theatrical immediacy and sense of ensemble in the new recording, based as it is on a celebrated run of performances in the theatre. To set against this is a certain rawness in the orchestral and choral contribution; nor will everyone warm to the opera in English translation. Nevertheless, complementing Mackerras’s magnificent grasp of the drama are some excellent performances, notably Janice Watson in the title role; Nigel Robson is also splendid as Laca, although I found Josephine Barstow’s approach to the Kostelnicka a little too one-dimensional. If, in the final analysis, Mackerras’s Decca performance, with its overwhelming performance of the third-act finale, remains superior, this new, excellently recorded reading is certainly one to return to frequently. Jan Smaczny