Los Angeles Opera Presents “Jenufa” by Leos Janácek.

Poor Jenufa. Disfigured for life on her right cheek, pregnant by a boyfriend reluctant to marry her, and stuck in some hillbilly town with an oppressive moral code over which her very own mother is the presiding authority! It’s amazing some demented stage director hasn’t yanked the whole tragic tale out of its Czech setting and plopped it down in an American Southern Baptist village, or somewhere in early 19th century Nebraska. Perhaps that kind of thing has actually been done already – but fortunately, I haven’t seen it.

Directed by Olivier Tambosi, the current Los Angeles Opera production – a handsome and familiar one designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann (and borrowed from the Metropolitan Opera) – keeps the action in some quasi-realistic world that just might be Czechoslovakia (the people look like villagers and there’s some hay on the horizon), but the grey, elephant-sized boulder in Jenufa’s bedroom is very likely not your typical Czech interior decoration. I take this rock as representing the proverbial “elephant in the room” that cannot be ignored – in this case Jenufa’s dilemma. (Mama, sadly, will toss the infant into the nearby icy river!) The remaining minimalist decor throughout the opera consists of high wooden-planked walls with token suggestions of a natural world outside.

The perhaps incomparable Karita Mattila is the undisputed star of the piece, her “signature role” we are told. Her voice is perfectly fabulous throughout, but her dramatic performance on Sunday afternoon seemed locked into a rather narrow range of expression, and she’s clearly too old for the part. On the other hand, as Jenufa’s mother, Kostelnicka, Eva Urbanova (what a glorious voice and what a wonderful new discovery!) is clearly too young. It takes someone like the late great Leonie Rysanek to get the juice out of this part –but Urbanova does pretty well under the circumstances. I got the feeling both divas were unhappy with some aspect of the stage direction, but I could never spot exactly what it was. During the Sunday matinee I felt both singers lost their dramatic concentration from time to time and did not fully inhabit their roles.

That said, I was continually moved to tears by this powerful opera and the largely superior performances under the propulsive and passionate leadership of conductor James Conlon. The bad boyfriend, Steva, was the excellent artist, Jorma Silvasti; the nasty, face-slashing Laca was Kim Begely, also excellent; and Elizabeth Bishop was fine as Grandma.

Leos Janácek

Thursday September 27, 2007 7:30 p.m.
Sunday September 30, 2007 2:00 p.m.
Thursday October 4, 2007 7:30 p.m.
Sunday October 7, 2007 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday October 10, 2007 7:30 p.m.
Saturday October 13, 2007 7:30 p.m.

JENŮFA Karita Mattila
LACA Kim Begley
STEVA Jorma Silvasti
MILL FOREMAN Jason Stearns
KAROLKA Lauren McNeese
MAYOR’S WIFE Margaret Thompson
JANO Lori Ann Fuller

CONDUCTOR James Conlon
DIRECTOR Olivier Tambosi
DESIGNER Frank Philipp Schlössmann

2 hours 55 minutes, including two intermissions.

One hour prior to each performance.
Music Director James Conlon interviewed by Duff Murphy.
Pre-performance lectures are generously sponsored by the Flora L. Thornton Foundation and the Opera League of Los Angeles.

Company Premiere.
Production from the Metropolitan Opera.
Sung in Czech with English Supertitles.

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