Jenůfa is a great opera given a great musical performance by Rattle, his singers and the LSO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Janáček, Jenůfa (concert performance): Soloists, London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle (conductor). Barbican, London, 11.1.2024. (AK)

LSO’s Jenůfa: Aleš Briscein (Laca) and Nicky Spence (Števa) © Mark Allan

Grandmother Buryjovka – Carole Wilson
Kostelnička – Katarina Karnéus
Jenůfa – Agneta Eichenholz
Laca Klemeń –Aleš Briscein
Števa Buryja – Nicky Spence
Foreman / Mayor – Jan Martiník
Jano – Erika Baikoff
Barena / Herdswoman – Claire Barnett-Jones
Mayor’s Wife – Hanna Hipp
Karolka – Evelin Novak

Musically this concert performance was a triumph, showing the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Chorus and conductor Simon Rattle on truly high. All was recorded and we can look forward to forthcoming broadcasts on Marquee TV from 8th February.

For me, visually the staging (or non-staging) did not work. Dramatic interpretations varied from singer to singer; they were not helped by being a relatively long distance from those they should have stood closer to. Having to go off/on stage with extra care – in order not to disturb the flow of music – must have been considerable burden on some of the singers.

Shortly before the first glorious folksong-like choral number two violinists walked on stage, played a few bars, and then walked off. I am not sure if these bars were intended for offstage or on it in the opera house, but to me it seemed odd to increase the disturbing traffic on the Barbican Hall stage.

Rattle’s insightful musical drive, the high standard of the orchestra as well as that of their amateur chorus was astonishing. In my youth the conductor to go to for Janáček was Sir Charles Mackerras, so hence I am delighted that the score used for this performance was that revised by John Tyrrell and Mackerras. Rattle’s affinity with Janáček, in particular with the folksong-type elements (like in the choral movements) did conjure the Moravian setting of the opera’s plot. The story, based on Gabriela Preissová’s play, could have unfolded in any rural village anywhere in the world but Janáček’s music and Rattle’s understanding firmly placed it into Janáček’s homeland.

LSO’s Jenůfa: Katarina Karnéus (Kostelnička) and Aleš Briscein (Laca) © Mark Allan

Of the solo singers – all of whom were excellent – a few stood out as clearly owning their parts: Katarina Karnéus (Kostelnička), Aleš Briscein (Laca) and Nicky Spence (Števa). The latter two most probably could have exchanged their parts and still deliver top performances. Furthermore, although Briscein is Czech and Spence is Scottish, their delivery of the Czech text was exemplary. (I do not speak/understand Czech, but I can tell when a word starts and finishes.)

For me, at least at the beginning, Agneta Eichenholz as Jenůfa was underpowered. She might have been particularly nervous as she only stepped into the role when Asmik Grigorian withdrew just a few weeks ago. However, throughout the evening, Eichenholz visibly – and aurally – turned into a credible Jenůfa for Janáček’s drama.

Violins and cellos sang beautifully on their instruments shortly into the second act (or were they violas, putting all viola jokes into eternal bed?) and concert master/LSO leader Benjamin Gilmore delivered a mesmerising violin solo, followed by a beautiful duet for Jenůfa and solo violin. The LSO cellists warmed my ex-cellist heart with their beautiful rendering of their tutti melody in the third act …they clearly cared, as did all on the stage.

A great opera in a great musical performance…

Agnes Kory

Featured image: LSO’s Jenůfa: Sir Simon Rattle conducts Agneta Eichenholz (Jenůfa) and the LSO © Mark Allan

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