Opera Scotland

Jenůfa 1974Royal Opera, Stockholm

Read more about the opera Jenůfa

Fifteen years after the Royal Opera from Stockholm had made a first Edinburgh Festival appearance, they returned with a memorable pair of early 20th century masterpieces. Of the four operas brought to Edinburgh by the Swedes in 1974, Jenůfa and Elektra were performed in a conventional, but thrilling, way. The recent work, The Vision of Thérèse, was performed in the round at STV's Gateway studios. A little-known Handel pastorale, Il pastor fido, completed their offering. Scottish Opera ventured into the supposedly rarified world of Gluck for the first time, with an under-rated staging of Alceste. The Festival's own production of Don Giovanni was revived from the previous year. There were also rare performances of two Schoenberg pieces, Pierrot Lunaire with Cleo Laine and Erwartung featuring Anja Silja. They fitted a Schoenberg theme that also included Catherine Gayer in some of his cabaret songs and Heather Harper in the Second Quartet.

The opera schedule was as follows:

First week, commencing 19 Aug: Mon Alceste; Tue -; Wed Don Giovanni; Thu Alceste; Fri Don Giovanni; Sat Alceste.

Second week, commencing 26 Aug: Mon Don Giovanni; Tue Alceste; Wed -; Thu Elektra; Fri -; Sat Jenůfa.

Third week, commencing Sun 1 Sep: Sun Elektra; Mon Vision of Thérèse; Tue Il pastor fido & Vision of Thérèse; Wed Jenůfa; Thu Il pastor fido; Fri Elektra; Sat Jenůfa.

For some reason Jenůfa was not brought to Edinburgh on either of the Czech visits of 1964 or 1970, so it was left to the Swedes to give this wonderfully humane work its Scottish premiere, singing in a Swedish translation (long before the arrival of supertitles). To say that this event was memorable is a serious understatement. It was one of those very rare evenings when the audience is gripped from first to last and the final notes are greeted with a satisfied silence that goes on and on because no-one wants to break the spell. Wonderful.

Götz Friedrich's production outdid anything that he would later achieve in his years working at Covent Garden in collaboration with Colin Davis or Bernard Haittink. Pivotal to its success was the experienced double-act of Söderström and Meyer, both acting with astonishing subtlety. While there were no weaknesses in this great company performances, perhaps the effortlessly charming tenor Jonny Blanc also stood out. Scottish Opera management quickly signed him up to sing Danilo in The Merry Widow.

The long-term result of this success was quickly evident. Welsh National had already planned a production of Jenůfa for 1975 in conjunction with Scottish Opera, to be created by the Scottish Opera team of David Pountney and Maria Bjørnson and conducted by Welsh National's Richard Armstrong. This project was immediately extended to embrace the eventual creation of a wonderful cycle of five Janáček works, with the addition of The Makropulos Case, Kátya Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen and From the House of the Dead. Two of the Swedish stars even took part. Elisabeth Söderström played Emilia Marty and Katya in Wales (around the time of her recordings with Charles Mackerras and the Vienna Philharmonic). Kerstin Meyer sang Kabanicha in Scotland.

Performance DatesJenůfa 1974

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King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

31 Aug, 19.30 4 Sep, 19.30 7 Sep, 19.30

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