In the first of its July free opera streams, San Francisco Opera presents Leoš Janáček’s compelling family drama Jenůfa, staged at the War Memorial Opera House in June 2016. In this production, directed by Olivier Tambosi, the legendary Finnish soprano Karita Mattila makes her role debut as the domineering stepmother, Kostelniča Buryjovka, and Swedish soprano Malin Byström sings the title role.
Set to to a Czech libretto by the composer, Jenůfa – regarded as one of the great operas of the 20th century – is based on the play Její pastorkyňa by Gabriela Preissová, and was premiered at the Brno Theater on January 21, in 1904. The action takes place in a quiet Moravian village in the late 19th century, where Jenůfa, who is betrothed to Števa, secretly gives birth to his child. Unwilling to be tainted by the existence of an illegitimate child, he deserts her, and Kostelniča – fiercely determined to uphold the honor of the family – is driven to commit the heinous crime of infanticide, for which Jenůfa ultimately finds it in her heart to forgive her stepmother.
Regarded as one of today’s most exciting lyric dramatic sopranos, Karita Mattila is lauded not only for a voice of beauty and versatility, but by her stage ability as well. Following her appearance as Kostelniča in a concert performance at the Royal Festival Hall just prior to this performance with San Francisco Opera, The Guardian described her portrayal as “devastating” ….. unquestionably glorious …. that engulfing sound still hits you in the solar plexus”. The Sunday Times wrote that “She sings Kostelnička’s notes more beautifully – and accurately – than any other soprano I have heard live (more than 40)…”.
Malin Byström, in her debut with San Francisco Opera, also makes her role debut as Jenůfa in this production. Following Ms Byström’s appearance opposite Plácido Domingo in Massenet’s Thaïs in 2012, Opera News wrote that “She commands a pristine soprano of distinctive color and strength”.
American tenor William Burden, in a return visit to San Francisco Opera for this production, follows his appearances with the Company in the world premieres of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and Heart of a Soldier. He has acquired an outstanding reputation in many of the prestigious opera houses in the United States and Europe, with The New York Times writing that “Subdued emotional intensity permeates every line of Mr Burden’s elegant singing”. Included in his recordings is Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony and he also appeared in the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD performance of Thomas Adès’ The Tempest.
Scott Quinn, making his San Francisco Opera debut in this performance, is a former participant in the Company’s Merola Opera Program, and also an alumnus of the Houston Grand Opera Studio. Following his appearance in Lucia di Lammermoor for Dallas Opera, Opera News observed that he “sang with finesse as well as power”.
Olivier Tambosi’s direction of this Hamburg State Opera production is designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, with lighting by Gary Marder. Following its opening in San Francisco. the San Francisco Chronicle referred to it as “A success of magnificent proportions!”, while the London Financial Times rated it as “☆☆☆☆☆”.
In this recording, The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) are directed by the former Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Jiří Bělohlávek CBE, in his final Bay Area appearance before his passing the following year.
Sung in Czech with English surtitles, Jenůfa is available to watch on demand with registration at sfopera.com from 10.00 am (PT) on Saturday, July 10th, through 11:59 pm (PT) on the following day.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Opera program notes