Jen?fa at the Bavarian State Opera

It opened April 8 at Munich’s Nationaltheater as part of his
second season as director. His program presents a mix of both traditional
productions and concept-driven, edgy regietheater repertory. But
“traditional” does not mean “old-school.”

Formerly director of Vienna’s famed Bergtheater, Bachler was aware
of stage director Barbara Frey’s work and his invitation for her to
stage Jenufa, her first opera, was a gamble that paid off. She took
the story of lost love and infanticide to heart and her taut reading makes
the story both searing drama and epic tragedy.

Based on a story, Jeji Pastorkyuna (Her Stepdaughter), by
Gabriellla Preissova, it is a relatively early opera by Janacek but marks him
emphatically as a master of musical drama and is now performed regularly on
the world’s major opera stages. It is the story of a young girl, who
gives her name to the opera, and her love affair with the town dandy, Steva.
Pregnant with his child, she bears the child in secret while he sows his oats
and avoids entanglements. Her high-strung, widowed step-mother, Kostenicka,
increasingly unhinged, drowns the baby, which is later discovered by the
townspeople. Jenufa is immediately accused but Kostenicka confesses and
Jenufa goes through with her marriage to the hapless but devoted Laca.

The setting, an open house on stakes, was designed by Bettina Meyer, and
served to concentrate the tension of this dangerously dysfunctional family
drama. The crowds who appear outside with the discovery of the body of the
love child in the lake, scramble over the forbidding rocks in this desolate
landscape. Staging, costumes and lighting all contribute to the sense of
desolation which permeates this drama. Slightly updated – wind turbine towers
are in the background and a cheap TV is on the table – the small town
claustrophobia is easily understood by contemporary audiences.

Bachler was generous with the assembled voices to bring this off. The
blazing work of soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek has generated much press recently
and, in the title role, her desperate love for a feckless young man, Steva,
could not be more heart-wrenching. Gifted with one of the most passionate and
powerful voices of today, her anguish was palpable.

There was a sure chemistry between her and her step-sister, Kostenicka,
played to perfection by the veteran soprano Deborah Polaski. Watching these
two professionals relate was the high-point of the evening. Canadian Joseph
Kaiser, with a clear, expressive tenor, was convincing as young Steva. Tenor
Stefan Margita, has made his disturbing, complex reading of Laca a simply
indispensable part of this opera. It was a quartet of talent that created an
intensity rarely experienced on the opera stage. The secondary characters,
all excellent, including opera legend Helga Dernesch, now 70, as the
grandmother. Sometimes wayward of tone, her character was theatrically on

Jenufa_Munich01.gifEva-Maria Westbroek and Deborah Polaski

It was a fine night also for Kirill Petrenko who lead the opera orchestra
and chorus with a vivid sense of musical expression. His career is taking off
in the last few years with major appearances in the pit at New York, Paris,
Vienna and London and his galvanizing leadership contributed to the seamless
night of high-voltage music making.

The opera is playing now at the Bavarian State Opera’s National
Theater through April 27 and will be seen again as part of the Munich Opera
Festival on July 9. Information, with pages in English, is at

Frank Cadenhead

Jenufa_Munich03.gifScene from Jen?fa

image_description=Eva-Maria Westbroek and Joseph Kaiser [Photo by W. Hoesl courtesy of the Bavarian State Opera]
product_title=Leoö Jan·?ek: Jen?fa
product_by=Die alte Buryja: Helga Dernesch; Laca Klemen: Stefan Margita; Stewa Buryja: Joseph Kaiser; Die K¸sterin Buryja: Deborah Polaski; Jenufa: Eva-Maria Westbroek; Altgesell: Christian Rieger; Dorfrichter: Christoph Stephinger; Frau des Dorfrichters: Heike Grˆtzinger; Karolka: Elena Tsallagova; Eine Magd: AnaÔk Morel; Barena: Tara Erraught; Jano: Laura Nicorescu; 1. Stimme: Mirela Bunoaica; 2. Stimme: Todd Boyce. Musikalische Leitung: Kirill Petrenko. Inszenierung: Barbara Frey. B¸hne: Bettina Meyer.
product_id=Above: Eva-Maria Westbroek and Joseph Kaiser

All photos by W. Hoesl courtesy of the Bavarian State Opera