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Opera by Leoš Janáček
Poster for the premiere, 1904
Native title
Její pastorkyňa (Her Stepdaughter)
Based onJejí pastorkyňa
by Gabriela Preissová
21 January 1904 (1904-01-21)

Její pastorkyňa (Her Stepdaughter; commonly known as Jenůfa (listen)) 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 National Theatre, Brno on 21 January 1904. Composed between 1896 and 1902,[1] it is among the first operas written in prose.[2]

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 due to a revised version by Karel Kovařovic, altering 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.[3] More than 70 years passed before audiences again heard it in Janáček's original version.

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.[4]

The composer dedicated the work to the memory of his daughter Olga (d. 1903), as he did his choral composition the Elegy on the Death of Daughter Olga.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast,
21 January 1904
(Conductor: Cyril Metoděj Hrazdira)
Jenůfa Soprano Marie Kabeláčová
Laca Klemeň Tenor Alois Staněk-Doubravský
Števa Buryja Bohdan Procházka
Kostelnička Buryjovka Soprano Leopoldina Hanusová-Svobodová[5]
Grandmother Buryjovka Contralto Věra Pivoňková
Stárek, the Mill foreman Baritone Karel Benýško
Mayor bass Alois Pivoňka
Mayor's wife Mezzo-soprano Ema Kučerová
Karolka Růžena Kasperová[6]
Chorus:Recruits, servants, girls, villagers, musicians


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 had two sons. The elder married the widow of a man named Klemeň, became stepfather to her son Laca, and had a son of his own with her, Števa. The younger married twice, and had a daughter, Jenůfa, with his first wife. When the opera opens, Grandmother Buryja's sons and their wives have died, except for the Kostelnička (the sacristan or sextoness of the village church),[7] the younger son's second wife and Jenůfa's stepmother.[8] Custom dictates that Števa alone, as the elder son's only child, 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 informs the family that Števa has not been drafted, to Jenůfa's relief and Laca's increased frustration. The others leave, and Jenůfa waits to greet Števa. He appears with a group of soldiers, drunk and boasting of his prowess with the girls. He calls for music and drags the miserable Jenůfa into dancing with him.

The 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. Jenůfa asks Laca to leave her, as she cannot expect him to marry her now. He replies that he will not leave her, and that he wishes to spend the rest of his life with her.

Noted arias[edit]

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




  1. ^ The description of the Universal Edition German-translated vocal score, 1944 republication, gives 1894–1903 instead- see OCLC 475447489.
  2. ^ Kundera 2004, p. 54
  3. ^ Štědroň 2006, p. 12
  4. ^ Jealousy, Classical Archives
  5. ^ Drlíková 2004, pp. 1—9
  6. ^ Štědroň 1946, pp. 153—154
  7. ^ https://www.oxfordreference.com/display/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100042994
  8. ^ Janá?Ek, Leoš (January 2002). Jen?fa. Courier Corporation. ISBN 978-0-486-42433-0.


  • Drlíková, Eva (2004). Leoš Janáček, Život a dílo v datech a obrazech / Chronology of his life and work. Brno: Opus Musicum. ISBN 80-903211-1-9.(in Czech and English)
  • Holden, Amanda (Ed.) (2001), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
  • Kundera, Milan (2004). Můj Janáček (in Czech). Brno: Atlantis. ISBN 80-7108-256-2.
  • Tyrrell, John (2007), Janáček: Years of a Life: (1914-1928) Tsar of the Forests, Vol. 2. London: 2007 (Two-volume biography of the composer by the leading authority.)
  • Štědroň, Miloš (Trans. Ted Whang) (2006), Jenůfa (Brno Janáček Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conductor František Jílek) (CD). Leoš Janáček. Prague: Supraphon. SU 3869-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  • Štědroň, Bohumír (1946). Janáček ve vzpomínkách a dopisech (in Czech). Prague: Topičova edice.

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