Notes and Editorial Reviews
A wonderful memento of a powerful operatic night at Covent Garden, of one of Bernard Haitink's last productions as the house's music director, of Karita Mattila's first recorded Janácek role and of one of the great singing actresses of our time, Anja Silja. Jenufa is now established as a repertoire work — Manila is singing it at the Met in New York as I write — and it's not difficult to realise why. It's a work of tremendous power and beauty, and spectacularly well done on this new recording.
-- Gramophone [Editor's Choice, 3/2003]
Listen to the opening bars of these two recordings and you might think you were hearing different operas: Haitink, recorded live 15 months ago at the Royal Opera House, takes a leisurely and subtle view of the prelude - the xylophone tapping to represent the turning of mill-wheel ominous but suggestive-while Krombholc at the Vienna State Opera in 1964 is much faster and more furious, overtly evoking Jenufa's terror that her guilty secret - her imminent unmarried motherhood - might be discovered with an insistent ostinato that sounds like a death-rattle. Krombholc was an outstanding Janácek conductor - his stereo Supraphon recording of Rita Kabanomi had no rivals until Decca launched its award-winning series of the five great operas under Charles Mackerras - and he rarely relaxes the tension during Jenufa's three pithy acts. But the Myto set is inevitably a 'specialist' issue. Sung in German, as was the practice in the German-speaking world until at least the 1970s, it remains treasurable for Sena Jurinac's plangent-voiced, deeply moving heroine and for Mödl's authority and psychological disintegration as her guilt-wracked stepmother, the infanticide sextoness (Kostelnicka) Buryovka. Waldemar Kmentt and Jean Cox are less convincing as Laca and Steva - the budding Canadian Heldentenor Cox has the heavier of the two voices and Kmentt's basically lyric tenor sounds stretched beyond its limits. But there are vivid cameos from the veteran Elisabeth Höngen as Granny Buryovka and the very young Lucia Popp - in the year her sensational EMI Queen of Night under Klemperer was released - as Steva's new sweetheart Karolka (she recorded the same role commercially 18 years later as a guest-star on the now-classic Mackerras recording).
Unsurprisingly, Haitink's approach to Jenufa is more 'romantic' than either Krombholc's or Mackerras's and one which some Janácekians will undoubtedly find too soft-centred and lacking in theatrical frisson. Certainly in the great scene in which the Kostelni6ka returns from drowning Jenufa's baby in the icy waters of the river, Haitink misses the sheer terror Mackerras and the Vienna Philharmonic evoke as the wind blows open the window and the Kostelnicka imagines that Death is peering into her house - although his Kostelnicka, the veteran Anja Silja, is simply riveting here as she was (is always) in the theatre - horror-struck at the enormity of her crime. And Haitink's warm-hearted interpretation brings its own rewards. In the theatre I don't think I have ever been so moved by the opera's closing pages as Jenufa forgives her step-mother and she and Laca look forward to a better life together. Karita Mattila and Jortna Silvasti sing so gloriously here, and Haitink's orchestra plays so rapturously, that you almost forget that the conductor is using Janácek's original score rather than the romanticised retouchings of Karel Kovarovic with its antiphonal horn motifs. The emotional catharsis of the live performance conies across almost as vividly here and for this scene alone I would urge all who love this wonderful opera to hear this new recording. There is plenty more to enjoy too: on disc one is less bothered than in the theatre by Jerry Hadley's portly middle-aged appearance as Steva and he seems in better voice than he did on the first night of the stage production, as does Eva Randova's touchingly frail Granny, about whom I wrote rather unkindly in The Sunday Times (the recording having been taken from several performances). Randova is, of course, the only native speaker in the Covent Garden cast, which sounds inevitably less idiomatic in the original language than Mackerras's, of which only Elisabeth Söderström's Jenufa and Wieslaw Ochman's Laca were non-Czechs: Randova is the Kostelnicka in that recording and from the purely vocal point of view she remains unsurpassed - a truly great piece of singing which Silja's, for all her individuality and charisma, is not.
In sum, Haitink's jenzifa clearly does not topple the Mackerras version from its pedestal but it is a deeply rewarding and, I think, valid alternative, especially collectable for Mattila's heroine and Silvasti's superlatively sung Laca.
-- Hugh Canning, Gramophone [3/2003]
This album received the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.