This is a hard hitting opera. Set in three scenes that look as if you are watching an oil painting come to life.
But this is not a classical romance, this is the gritty truth of life, families, love, mixed with a fear of God in the 1800’s Czech countryside.
Jenufa is the love interest of two men. To one she is pregnant, the other can’t hide his affections until they boil over into a passionate strike on her face with a knife.
The remainder of the play involves the new born baby, the stepmother’s contortions with God, confessions and forgiveness.
Sung in Czech, written by Leos Janacek and based on the play ‘Her Stepdaughter’ by Gabriela Preissova, this is a cultural treat.
I have no classical training. I write what I see and hear, and how it affected me.
In the first act, there felt like there was a pleasant dissonance between words and music, until a point where the two blended together into a stream of sound, it was really remarkable.
As a drama, it was very similar to watching a soap opera, but the orchestra were one of the characters, weaving around the songs and voices, enabling the dramatic tension to build.
The conductor, Thomas Hanus, gave a short speech before the opera, saying “every couple has to endure its sorrows” and what we were about to witness was “human life and the failure of human beings.” He was quite correct.
And the programme notes by Gavin Plumley were also useful, especially when he highlights that although the women in the village and mill are powerless, they are required to be strong, and the powerful men are allowed to be weak.
The opera reveals that it is the family flaws that we inherit, we have to conquer.
There was also a subtle dig on the reliance of God to solve your problems and be the ultimate “fixer of things”.
In a very powerful Act Two, in which the newly born baby is cause of much consternation, the fretting, God-fearing stepmother says to Jenufa “You always cuddle the baby instead of praying to God.”
What all babies need is love, no matter how old they are. The flaw is fixed in Act Three.
The cast and orchestra were excellent. I can’t single out anyone for praise as this was only my second opera, and having read that WNO Music Director Tomas Hanus suggests this should be the first opera people should see, I feel blessed that this chance has landed me in this seat.
Jenafu has laid down a tough maker for the others to follow.