Opera Scotland

Jenůfa 2015Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Jenůfa

There can be no doubt that Jenůfa is one of those rather special operas that has the ability to leave its audiences both emotionally drained and inspired by the end. In that respect, like perhaps Billy Budd, it only seems to be put on by companies that have assembled a particularly good cast and director who will give everything to projecting the matter in hand. It is clear that Scottish Opera have, on this occasion, done just that.

The two Edinburgh Festival visits by the National Theatre from Prague in 1964 and 1970 introduced us to several masterpieces of the Czech repertoire. However this particular work of genius had to wait until 1974, when the Stockholm Opera brought a staging that is now legendary - it was indeed one of those very rare occasions when terms such as stunning and incredible are almost justified. The production mounted jointly by Welsh National and Scottish Operas a few years later almost repeated the feat. It is now a quarter-century since that staging was retired. Scottish Opera later had great success with a small-scale touring production, and English Touring Opera brought a good version to Perth a few years ago, However many people have not had an opportunity to hear this glorious work, and it clearly had its proper effect on them at the third Glasgow performance.

This cast, distinctly promising on paper, turned out not to have a weak link, and the choice of performers led to some interestingly fresh ideas. Thus even the casting of Anne-Marie Owens as the grandmother makes her a younger and more imposing figure than usual. Her caddish, spoilt young grandson, sweetly sung by Sam Furness, perhaps as a result, seems little more than a boy, struggling to impose any authority as one of the wealthiest men in the community, and still definitely one of the lads. He even sprouts a wee moustache in the last act, to little purpose.

His half-brother Laca is also given a remarkably fresh reading by Peter Wedd. The character is frequently shown as a hulking brute, a bear of little brain, and played, grippingly it is true, by Wagner tenors who have been around for a while. Wedd looks and sounds much younger than that, and it helps. The two female leads gave memorable performances. Lee Bisset, like most Scottish singers of her generation, needs to make her career in other operatic worlds, so it is good to hear how the voice has developed - easy and powerful, but with all the lyricism needed. Kathryn Harries is more familiar, a seasoned interpreter of Janáček's dramatic roles, and still has plenty of voice at her command. They were both excellent.

The new conductor, Stuart Stratford, seemed thoroughly at home in the style, and drew some wonderful playing from the Orchestra of Scottish Opera. Annilese Miskimmon's production was translated from late 19th century Moravia to Ireland c1918.  In spite of the infusion of folk-rhythms throughout the music, the plot is of sufficient universality for a move to be acceptable, though little was really made of it. There was plenty of well-observed detail in the characterization of the villagers, but overall the change didn't seem to make a huge difference. The stage was dominated by the exterior of a cottage in the first act, and a spacious interior thereafter. No sign of a mill or of much other village life to provide context.

Now that we have supertitles, the company can, for the first time, sing a Janáček opera in the original Czech language. They did this once before, with Smetana's Dalibor, but it is still quite unusual. There didn't seem to be any problems - even the chorus singing as though they fully understood their text.

Performance DatesJenůfa 2015

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

7 Apr, 19.15 9 Apr, 19.15 11 Apr, 19.15

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

16 Apr, 19.15 18 Apr, 19.15

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