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Opera In English - Janacek: Jenufa / Mackerras, Watson, Barstow

Release Date: 06/29/2004 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 3106   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Leos Janácek
Performer:  Claire HamptonElizabeth VaughanJosephine BarstowJanice Watson,   ... 
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Welsh National Opera ChorusWelsh National Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is the Brno--that is, the correct, original, without orchestration added by Karel Kovarovic--version of Jenufa, sung here in a good English translation by Edward Downes and Otakar Kraus. It is acknowledged that Janácek's operas are most effective when they are sung in Czech, and therefore this achievement deserves extra praise: the end product is almost overwhelming in its potency and ability to move. It is no coincidence that such a superb reading should be led by Charles Mackerras, long a Janácek specialist and the conductor of this set's strongest competition (on Decca, with Elisabeth Söderstrom in the title role).

The recording slightly favors the
Read more orchestra, occasionally to the detriment of the sung text (how much of it would you understand if it were sung in Czech?). This allows Janácek's always surprising instrumental textures to be more clearly heard, but not in an artificial, "enhanced" way. The xylophone figures, which always foreshadow trouble for poor Jenùfa and can "feel" like the rattling of bones, chill each time they're heard. The raucousness of the orchestra as Steva and his friends enter, drunk, is not just fun, it's the kind of fun that can turn violent if a guy has one too many. The tender accompaniment to Jenùfa's prayer in Act 2 is heavenly, and the berserk ruckus that occurs when the dead infant is discovered is upsetting in the extreme. In all, in this tale of misplaced anger, humiliation, infanticide, and, to quote Wagner, "redemption through love", Mackerras keeps the level of tension almost uncomfortably high. Seen live, this show would jar an audience to break into a sweat. (It is based on performances at the Welsh National Opera, but with a different Jenùfa.)

The cast is equally fine. Janice Watson sounds correctly young and vulnerable, but her voice is substantial and quite beautiful in the gentler passages. We're with her every step of her tangled way. As the Kostelnicka, perhaps the greatest character role for female voice in all of opera (yes, even moreso than Klytemnestra), soprano Josephine Barstow is towering--authoritative, filled with anguish, then paranoia, then guilt; and though they aren't pretty, her repeated high-Bs in Act 2 are suitably hair-raising and solid. Peter Wedd's Steva is callous and vivid and Nigel Robson, starting with little character, is warm and believable in the second act, reaching great heights by the final duet. The other cast members are so good and draw their characters with such individuality that it's obvious that they were part of a staged production. The playing and singing of the WNO forces is nothing less than brilliant. Don't toss away Söderstrom, but Chandos is now number one. [7/31/2004]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Jenufa by Leos Janácek
Performer:  Claire Hampton (Soprano), Elizabeth Vaughan (Mezzo Soprano), Josephine Barstow (Soprano),
Janice Watson (Soprano), Peter Wedd (Tenor), Nigel Robson (Tenor),
Neal Davies (Baritone), Marian McCullogh (Mezzo Soprano), Alan Fairs (Baritone),
Charlotte Ellet (Soprano), Imelda Drumm (Mezzo Soprano), Rosie Hay (Soprano),
Sarah Pope (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Welsh National Opera Chorus,  Welsh National Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Brno, Czech Republic 
Language: English 
Notes: Composition written: Brno, Czech Republic (1894 - 1903). 

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