Jenůfa by Leoš Janáček, October, 2017


POV's Best of Youtube

Jenůfa is a powerful drama with complex characters and music of great emotional depth that expresses profound passion and compassion while capturing the flavour of traditional Moravian folk song. Explore the music of this wonderful opera with these Youtube selections from various productions.


Prelude and opening of Act 1.

The haunting, rhythmic opening to the opera is unforgettable. The very first sound we hear is the ominous hammer of a xylophone, suggesting the restless, incessant turning of the mill wheel.

Throughout the entire opening act, this monotone rattle evokes the turning wheel, the humdrum and claustrophobic nature of work life, the tension later as Laca sharpens his knife, even a rattling evocation of death (the use of the xylophone to represent the Dance of Death was certainly familiar to Janáček, who had conducted Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre, in which the xylophone famously imitates the sound of rattling bones).

The entire first act carries the ominous, ever-forward thrust of a Hitchcock movie score, a repeated note ticking away on the xylophone like a time bomb.
[Michael J. Vaughn, writer]

In the opening scene Jenůfa holds a pot of rosemary and broods on her pregnancy, fervently praying that the father, Števa, won't be drafted into the army and that they can marry before anyone learns her shameful secret. Jenůfa's Grandmother tells Jenůfa to get back to her work. Laca complains that Grandmother has never treated him like family, but has always favoured Števa. When he reproaches Grandmother for making Jenůfa work when she's worrying about Števa, Jenůfa reflects that his watching eyes see into her very heart.

Jaroslav Kyzlink conducts a 2004 performance at the Janáček Opera/National Theatre in Brno (the city where the opera had been first premièred 100 years prior, in 1904). Surprisingly, this was the first Czech production of the original Brno version of Jenůfa (as revised byJanáček in 1908). Helena Kaupova is Jenůfa, with Marta Benackova as Grandmother Buryja, Peter Straka as Laca, with the Chorus and Orchestra of the National Theatre, Brno


Act 1 Chorus, Daleko, široko

Števa has arrived with a group of rowdy army recruits and workers. Jenůfa is overjoyed to see him, but upset that he is drunk again. Cocky, charming, Števa celebrates the fact that he has not been conscripted and that all the girls like him.

He then has the musicians play Jenůfa's favourite song, a rousing folk chorus about a golden-haired boy who falls from the top of a tower of handsome boys, right into his sweetheart's lap.

Daleko, široko do tĕch Nových Zámků;
stavija tam vežu ze samých šohájků...
Far away there in the town of Nových Zámků
stood a high tower built of fine and handsome fellows...

The words are from a Moravian folk song, but Janáček composed the music himself. Although it has the rhythm and exotic harmonic flavour of a Moravian folk dance, as if the tune has been around forever, this is, like all the "folk" tunes in Janůfa, anáček's original music.

Andrew Davis conducts this 1989 Glyndebourne Festival opera production, directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Mark Baker is Števa, and Roberta Alexander, is Jenůfa.


Act 2, scene 3. The Kostelnička begs Števa to marry Jenůfa

To protect Jenůfa's honour, the Kostelnička has hidden the girl away, telling everyone she has gone to Vienna, and praying all the time that Jenůfa might lose the baby. But Jenůfa has given birth to a healthy little boy, whom she has named after his father.

Now that the baby is a week old, the Kostelnička has sent for Števa, who has no interest in seeing the baby. Although he offers to support the child as long as no one knows he is the father, that is not enough. The Kostelnička pleads desperately for him to save Jenůfa's honour and her own by marrying Jenůfa.

Števo, seber si oba svatým zákonem.
Števa, won't you take them both and marry Jenůufa
Do not abandon my stepdaughter, my joyful daughter
With you may she now withstand all misfortune
only don't let her remain with this shame upon her name and mine
You're weeping?

Karita Mattila is the Kostelnička, with Scott Quin as Števa in this 2016 production by San Francisco Opera, conducted by Jiří Bĕlohlávek and directed by Olivier Tambosi.


Act 2, scene 6. Zdrávas královno (Salve Regina)

Desperate to save Jenůufa from shame and dishonour, the Kostelnička has decided to send the baby back to God by drowning him in the icy river in order to free Jenůufa to marry Laca. She has taken the child away, leaving Jenůufa asleep.

Jenůufa wakes, groggy, panicky that neither her stepmother nor the baby are there. Finally, assuming the Kostelnička has taken him to the mill to show him off, she says a heartfelt prayer to the Virgin Mary. Her prayer, the traditional Salve Regina, ends with a frantic plea for Mary to protect the child, her little Števuška.

Zdrávas královno, matko milosrdenství,
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

A Števuška mi ochraňuj, a Števuška,
And Števuška protect for me,
and do not desert him,
and do not desert him,
O most merciful mother!

Elisabeth Soderstrom is Jenůfa, with Sir Charles MacKerras conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Made in 1982, this historic recording restores for the first time Janáček's orchestration, thanks to the efforts of MacKerras and John Tyrrell, both preeminent Janáček authorities.


Act 3 Finale. Odešli. Jdio také!
Two versions: 1. As modified by Karel Kovařovic. 2. Janáček's original.

The historic 1982 recording by Charles MacKerras includes two versions of the final duet between Jenůfa and Laca. When Karel Kovařovic, artistic director of the Prague National Theater, finally agreed to stage Jenůfa in 1916, 12 years after its Brno première, it was on condition that Janáček allow him to "fix" the orchestration.

The two musicians diverged sylistically, but there was also personal animosity between them. Some 30 years earlier, Janáček had written a scathing review of Kovařovic's opera The Bridegrooms, and this fuelled Kovařovic's intransigence, which was worn down only after intense lobbying by Janáček's supporters.

Janáček very much wanted the opera staged in the important cultural centre of Prague (and indeed, the 1916 production succeeded in finally bringing Jenůfa to international prominence). He therefore agreed to Kovařovic's conditions.

Kovařovic made a number of cuts and sanded off Janáček's rough-hewn orchestration, polished the trombones into horns, and added gloss and lushness to the score. The most prominent differences are in the final scene, in particular at the very end, where he piles on instrumental echoes of the theme to produce a canonical version, which, as John Tyrrell says, while certainly effective and uplifting, may now strike the listener as inappropriately pompous – and furthermore detracts from Janáček's repeated trombone chords at the end of the phrase.

Kovařovic's version held sway through most of the 20th century until MacKerras and Tyrrell restored Janáček's original. The restored version, known as the 1908 Brno version, incorporating some of Janáček's own early revisions, but finally doing without Kovařovic's embellishments, was recorded in 1982, and finally published in 1996.

Kovařovic's version is heard first here. Janáček's version starts at 3:29. Listen in particular to Kovařovic's canonical ending (2:47 to 3:24) against Janáček's (6:17 to 6:56).

Only when we hear the work, uncut, without extra woodwind filling in and smoothing out Janáček 's austere contours, without heroic horns replacing the stark trombones in the final scene, can we truly appreciate the naked directness of his first fully achieved musical drama.
Dennis Marks

In the opera's final scene, the baby's body has been found; the Kostelnička has confessed to the murder and begged forgiveness. As her stepmother is led away for trial, Jenůfa has asked God to comfort her. Now Jenůfa and Laca are left alone. She tells him to go, as she is not worthy of him.

Odešli. Jdio také
They have gone! Now you go!
Surely you see now that my wretched life cannot ever be linked with yours.
Be with God ... and remember, and remember
that you were the best person, the best person I have ever met in the world ...

She assures him she has long since forgiven him, for, like her, he had sinned out of love. She warns that when she is called to court, everyone will look at her with contempt. He replies that he will stand by her. What does the world matter, if we have one another for consolation!

Elisabeth Soderstrom is Jenůfa, withWieslav Ochman as Laca. Sir Charles MacKerras conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.




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