Stéphane Braunschweig’s production of Janáček’s Jenůfa, recorded at Madrid’s Teatro Real, is austere and effective. The sets are almost empty. Mill sails appear from a slot in the floor to suggest the family mill, there’s a cot for the baby in Act 2 and some church benches in Act 3. That’s it. The rest of the “setting” is carried by a very effective lighting plot. I don’t think there are any big ideas here but it’s an effective, straightforward way of telling the story. Braunschweig also makes effective use of the chorus, especially in Act 1.
The singing is consistently good. Amanda Roocroft, in the title role, is a good actress and sings with a fine combination of power and creamy lyricism. The Kostelnička, Deborah Polaski, is quite restrained but still fiercely powerful. Here she is as much victim as tormentor. It’s an interpretation that not everyone will buy, I guess, but I found it quite effective. Miroslav Dvorský is a lyrical and affecting Laca. Nikolai Schukoff swaggers effectively enough through the role of the caddish Števa. Ivor Bolton conducts and brings clarity and lushness to thuis truly wonderful score, supported by fine playing from the Madrid orchestra.
Video direction is by Angel Luis Ramirez and it’s good. One gets a good sense of the picture that Braunschweig is painting (it is painterly) and there are no gimmicks. The excellent HD picture and clear surround sound (on Blu-ray) help. Extras are limited to a synopsis and cast gallery while the booklet too, has just a synopsis. Subtitle options are English, French, German and Spanish.
This is a very satisfying recording of a very beautiful and engaging opera. There’s not a lot of competition but collectors wanting a fiercer Kostelnička might want to consider the Barcelona recording (Eva Marton) or the older Glyndebourne version with the legendary Anja Silja.