Jenůfa

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Jenůfa About this sound (Czech)  (Její pastorkyňa, "Her Stepdaughter" in Czech) is an opera in three acts by Leoš Janáček to a Czech libretto by the composer, based on the play Její pastorkyňa by Gabriela Preissová. It was first performed at the Brno Theater, Brno, 21 January 1904. It was written between 1896 and 1902, and counts among the first operas written in prose.[1]

The first of Janáček's operas in which his distinctive voice can clearly be heard, it is a grim story of infanticide and redemption. Like the playwright's original work, it is known for its unsentimental realism. While today it is heard in the composer's original version, Jenůfa's early popularity was fostered by a revision by Karel Kovařovic of what was considered its eccentric style and orchestration. Thus altered, it was well-received, first in Prague, and particularly after its Vienna première also worldwide.[2] More than 70 years were to pass before audiences heard it as Janáček had intended it to be performed.

Janáček wrote an overture to the opera, but decided not to use it. It was partly based on a song called Žárlivec (The jealous man). It is now performed as a concert piece under the title Žárlivost (Jealousy), JW 6/10.[3]

The composer dedicated the work to the memory of his dead daughter Olga, as he also did with his choral composition called the Elegy on the Death of Daughter Olga.

Roles[edit]

Poster for the premier of Jenůfa (Její pastorkyňa), 1904
Role Voice type Premiere Cast,
21 January 1904
(Conductor: C. M. Hrazdira)
Jenůfa soprano Marie Kabeláčová
Laca Klemeň tenor Alois Staněk-Doubravský
Števa Buryja tenor Bohdan Procházka
Kostelnička Buryjovka soprano Leopoldina Hanusová-Svobodová[4]
Grandmother Buryjovka Contralto Věra Pivoňková
Stárek, the Mill foreman Baritone Karel Benýško
Mayor Bass Alois Pivoňka
Mayor's wife mezzo-soprano Ema Kučerová
Karolka mezzo-soprano Růžena Kasperová[5]
Chorus:Recruits, servants, girls, villagers, musicians

Synopsis[edit]

Place: A Moravian village
Time: the nineteenth century

The plot depends on a tangled set of village relationships. Before the opera begins, the mill-owner Grandmother Buryja's two sons have both married twice, fathered children, and died. Their wives have also died, except for the Kostelnička (widow of the churchwarden), the younger son's second wife and Jenůfa's stepmother. Custom dictates that only Števa, the elder son's child by his first marriage, will inherit the mill, leaving his half-brother Laca and cousin Jenůfa to earn their livings.

Act 1[edit]

Jenůfa, Laca, and Grandmother Buryja wait for Števa to return home. Jenůfa, in love with Števa and secretly pregnant with his child, worries that he may have been drafted into the army. Laca, in love with Jenůfa, expresses bitterness against his half-brother's favored position at home. As he complains he plays with a knife and, finding it blunt, gives it to the mill foreman to be sharpened.

The foreman tells the family the news that Števa has not been drafted after all, to Jenůfa's relief and Laca's increased frustration. The others leave, and Jenůfa waits by herself to greet Števa. He appears with a group of soldiers, extremely drunk and boasting of his prowess with the girls. He calls for music and drags the miserable Jenůfa into dancing with him.

Then Kostelnička steps into this rowdy scene, silences the musicians and, shocked by Števa's behavior, forbids him to marry Jenůfa until he can stay sober for one full year. The soldiers and the family leave Števa and Jenůfa alone, and she begs him to love her, but he, unaware of her pregnancy, gives her casual answers and leaves.

Laca returns, as bitter as ever. He attempts to goad Jenůfa into criticizing Števa, but she takes her lover's side despite everything. Laca rages that Števa would never even look at her if it weren't for her rosy cheeks, then slashes her across the cheek with his knife.

Act 2[edit]

Months later, it is winter. The baby has been born, but Števa has not yet come to visit his child. Jenůfa's face is still disfigured, but she is happy in her love for the baby. While Jenůfa sleeps, the Kostelnička summons Števa and demands that he take responsibility. He answers that while he will provide money in secret, no one must know the baby is his. His love for Jenůfa died when Laca spoiled her beauty, and he is now engaged to marry Karolka, the mayor's pretty daughter.

Števa leaves, and Laca enters. He still doesn't know the truth about the baby, and when the Kostelnička tells him, his first reaction is disgust at the thought of taking Števa's child under his wing. Fearful that Jenůfa will be left with no one to marry, Kostelnička hastily lies that the baby is dead. Laca leaves, and the Kostelnička is faced with the necessity of making the lie true. She wraps the baby in a shawl and leaves the house.

Jenůfa wakes up and says a prayer for her child's future, but the Kostelnička, returning, tells her that the baby died while she slept. Laca appears and comforts Jenůfa gently, asking that they spend the rest of their lives together. Seeing the tenderness of the couple, the Kostelnička tries to convince herself that she has acted for the best.

Act 3[edit]

It is now spring, and Laca and Jenůfa's wedding day. All seems right again, except that the Kostelnička is a nervous wreck. Števa and Karolka visit, and a chorus of village girls sings a wedding song. Just then, screams are heard. The body of the baby has been discovered in the mill-stream under the melting ice. Jenůfa immediately says that the baby is hers, and in her grief appears guilty of the murder. The village is ready to exact immediate justice against Jenůfa, but the Kostelnička calms them and says that the crime is hers. Hearing the whole story, Jenůfa forgives her stepmother. The crowd takes the Kostelnička off to jail. Jenůfa and Laca are left alone.

Noted arias[edit]

  • "In a moment" [Co chvíla] (Kostelnička)
  • Jenůfa's prayer (Jenůfa)

Recordings[edit]

The most acclaimed recording is the Decca, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, in his own critical edition.

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Kundera, p. 54
  2. ^ Štědroň, Miloš; (transl. Ted Whang) (2006). Jenůfa (Brno Janáček Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conductor František Jílek) (CD). Leoš Janáček. Prague: Supraphon. p. 12. SU 3869-2. 
  3. ^ Jealousy, Classical Archives
  4. ^ Drlíková, Eva (2004). Leoš Janáček, Život a dílo v datech a obrazech / Chronology of his life and work. Brno: Opus Musicum. p. 65. ISBN 80-903211-1-9.  (Czech) (English)
  5. ^ Štědroň, Bohumír (1946). Janáček ve vzpomínkách a dopisech. Prague: Topičova edice. pp. 153–154.  (Czech)
Sources
  • Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
  • Kundera, Milan (2004). Můj Janáček. Brno: Atlantis. ISBN 80-7108-256-2. (Czech)
  • Tyrrell, John, Janáček: Years of a Life, London: 2006/7, a two volume biography of the composer by the leading authority; the second volume is to be released in 2007.

External links[edit]