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Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa - 22 June 2016 - San Francisco Opera, 7:30 pm. 

This is my first opera sung in Czech and an opera not for the faint of heart.  It was three acts with two intermissions and ran for approximately 2 1/2 hours but you were certainly rung out by the end of the opera.  The stage setting was again very minimal.  The rock you see in the above image was the third act.  In the first act, it is barely protruding through the stage with a few of the floor boards bent upward as it projected through the stage.  By the second act, the rock is a massive boulder engulfing the stage.  In the third act which you see here, it has been broken into many smaller pieces.  As you will read, it is very symbolic of events of the opera.

The opera takes place in a Moravian village with Jenůfa waiting for the return of her boyfriend Števa who is under threat of being drafted into military service.  She is pregnant with his child, unbeknownst to her family and needs him to follow through with his promise to marry her.  He does not know she is pregnant.  Jenůfa’s family owns the town mill.

Laca, Števa’s stepbrother is secretly in love with Jenůfa but she has eyes only for Števa, the town catch.  Števa returns with a crowd, drunk and rowdy.  Jenůfa’s stepmother Kostelnička cannot abide drunks since her husband was one and tells Števa he must not drink for one year before she will allow her stepdaughter to marry him.  This, of course, will be a disaster for Jenůfa.  The grandmother Buryjovka sends everyone away and Jenůfa and Števa are alone and he is wary of marriage.  Števa leaves.  Laca returns, quarrels with Jenůfa and slashes her cheek.  

Act II has everyone in the village thinking Jenůfa is in Vienna working but in reality, she is at home where Kostelnička has hidden her during the pregnancy and the birth of her son.  Kostelnička calls Števa to her and tells him of the son, and pleads with him to marry Jenůfa.  He refuses. He is now engaged to the Mayor’s daughter Karolka.  The stepmother now turns to Laca who is stunned to learn of the child.  To assuage his fears, she tells him the baby is dead.  To  make sure of what she told Laca, she takes the child and drowns it in the millstream (very uplifting).  

Jenůfa awakes from a deep sleep and illness and learns her stepmother has arranged a marriage with Laca and tells her her baby died while she was ill.  She agrees, in grief, to marry Laca.

Act III  begins with Jenůfa about to marry Laca and guests arrive, including Karolka and Števa.  As the ceremony is about to proceed, cries from the village are heard and word comes a baby has been found in the millstream.  Jenůfa identifies the body of the child as hers.  The village turns on her but Laca defends her and eventually, Kostelnička confesses.  As she is taken away, Jenůfa forgives her and she marries Laca and start a new life.

Needless to say, this was an emotional opera.  Karita Mattila as Kostelnička was exceptional as was Malin Byström as Jenůfa.

The image is from the San Francisco Opera web site.

© Fred Searcy 2017