Friday, February 16, 2007

Jenůfa, Jenůfa, Jenůfa

The Met run of Jenufa has been well and thoroughly blogged, by familiar
Alex Ross
Maury (and again and again)
Alex of Wellsung
Sieglinde (and a good explanation of matters box office)
and unfamiliar (to me, anyway)
Show Showdown
Moths and Anvils (with a cameo by someone I hope isn't Alex Ross)
Opera, knitting, and all is well
Theater Snobbery at its Finest
Felix Salmon
arts & other
(plus others of which I've lost track). Even Tommasini has gotten around to getting a Jenufa-related profile in the NYT. So yet another post on it here? I beg your indulgence.

*     *     *

The performances since the first two have had three different casts: one per night. As before mentioned, Kim Begley showed signs of indisposition last Tuesday and was unable to repeat his powerful Laca-assumption of four years back. On Saturday, Judith Forst took a one-off turn as the Kostelnička, while another cast member (Diane Elias, as the Old Shepherdess) succumbed to indisposition and was replaced by Ellen Rabiner. Two nights ago (Valentine's Day), Rabiner was again the Old Shepherdess, while fill-in Števa Raymond Very left to allow Jay Hunter Morris his Met debut.

Forst first. She was everything Anja Silja isn't, and as much as Silja's first performance made me wish for someone like Forst, Forst's performance made me wish for Silja again. Silja's Kostelnicka is a tall, upright, far-seeing alien, standing strictly apart from locals with whom she has little to nothing in common. (Only Karita Mattila's Jenufa may be akin.) This means some of the things the libretto puts into her mouth seem downright odd -- the trousseau, for example, seems only to make sense as a bizarre form of penance she took upon herself. Forst, on the other hand, is neither tall nor strikingly thin, but has a noticably richer, lower-centered (she is a mezzo) voice. Her Kostelnicka looks, sounds, and in fact acts quite at home among the rustic population of the piece. Vocally, every note sounds -- which is not the case for Silja: the bottom is merely a hint over orchestra -- but cries and top notes induce no chills.

On balance, while Forst's conception may be more correct, I find that Silja's expands the scope and meaning of the opera. Forst's character is not her stepdaughter's equal; Silja's is, and the visible transfer of guilt and anxiety from one to the other at the crux is a huge touch.

Morris, I thought, nailed the physical character of Steva -- this time as a big, good-natured but unfortunately cowardly lug. That his sound was a bit constricted may have been debut nerves; at any rate the overall effect wasn't unpleasant. (He was, incidentally, included in Mattila's curtain-call kiss lineup.) Rabiner has done fine in her small part.

*     *     *

As for the carryover cast, Silja and Jorma Silvasti -- and, indeed, Barbara Dever as the Grandmother -- seem stronger and more authoritative now than when the production began. In the center of the revival meanwhile, as the only cast member who hasn't gotten any sort of break, Mattila is ever terrific, but Wednesday found her for the first time audibly working around vocal unease. (In an odd counterbalance, she showed more physical abandon than ever.) I hope it was a night-specific thing, or conserving resources for tomorrow's broadcast: with (finally) the same cast twice again, things are -- if she's healthy -- set for a great event.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.