ALBUM TITLE: Janácek
PERFORMER: Hanna Schwarz, Ladislav Elgr, Will Hartmann, Jennifer Larmore, Michaela Kaune, Simon Pauly, Stephen Bronk, Nadine Secunde, Martina Welschenbach, Jana Kurucová, Alexandra Hutton, Fionnuala McCarthy; Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Donald Runnicles; dir. Christof Loy (Berlin, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 109069; Blu-ray: 109070
Jenufa is one of verismo’s greatest operas, but in the wrong hands can topple over into caricature and melodrama. This is not the case on Oehms’s recording. Dirk Kaftan keeps a firm grasp on the rapidly developing drama and is at his most impressive in the preludes to each act. At times, however, his approach leads to some rather breathless pacing, most damagingly in the last two scenes of the opera. Gal James is an affecting Jenufa and Ales Briscein is convincingly passionate as Laca, though at times his tone is surprisingly raw; in the key role of Kostelnicka, Iris Vermillion is vocally impressive, but her diction is often far from clear.
The main problem is the recorded balance; it has something of the excitement of a live performance, but is on the close side and too often the orchestra overshadows the singing, notably at the end of Act I. Overall, this is a serious attempt to capture the opera’s emotional depth, but it nowhere approaches Charles Mackerras’s classic recording and, be warned, the booklet’s translation of the libretto is only into German.
The main premise of Christof Loy’s production of Jenufa, not unreasonably, seems to be that it is a flashback experienced by the Kostelnicka in prison. Neither this nor Dirk Becker’s rather blank set do little to detract from a fine ensemble performance with the intense dramatic interaction between characters excellently captured by the camera. Michaela Kaune’s sweetly sung, beautifully observed characterisation of Jenufa is remarkable. Ladislav Elgr is splendid as the hopeless drunk Steva and Will Hartmann’s Laca is a near-perfect blend of anger and vulnerability.
But the palm, as often happens in this opera, goes to the Kostelnicka. Jennifer Larmore is superb both vocally and dramatically in the role. The Deutsche Opera orchestra is mostly on excellent form and Donald Runnicles has the measure of the work’s ebb and flow. The only disappointment is that both performers and producer underplay the healing qualities of the final duet. Notwithstanding an unhelpful synopsis in the booklet and one or two quirks of the production, this is a fine realisation of this profoundly moving work. Jan Smaczny