Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Jenufa @ Opera Holland Park, London

6, 8, 13, 15, 20, 22 June 2007

Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park (Photo: Sam Smith)

Opera Holland Park comes of age with this stirring performance of Jenufa. Visiting OHP is a truly unique experience. The theatre is assembled every summer for an eclectic selection of operas, many on the fringe of the repertoire, with standards improving year on year. To say that I approached the first night of Janáček’s glorious opera without some trepidation would, to some extent, be telling porkies.

Janáček’s orchestral writing is demanding, cruelly exposed (especially when there’s no pit as here) and requires meticulous playing from all departments of the orchestra. For a smaller company such as Opera Holland Park to tackle any of his works could be viewed as either foolhardy or a bold stroke of ambitious planning. Fortunately the gamble paid off and I left this stirring performance of Jenufa, like any halfway decent performance of this sublime work, feeling glad to be alive.

Conductor Stuart Stratford led an impulsive, faultlessly paced account of this riveting score and the orchestra (apart from one gaffe right at the end of Act Three) played as though their lives depended on it. The result was shattering, and I have to say that I’ve heard less secure, impassioned playing at far posher operatic addresses than this.

Without a first-rate cast, all this blazing intensity from the orchestra would have been wasted, but unlike both London houses Opera Holland Park is in a position to take risks with its casting, and those risks certainly paid off.

Jenufa is a deceptively big sing, but French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels rose to the occasion, producing a flood of glorious tone all evening. She was touching in her prayer to the Virgin Mary in Act Two, and in the final reconciliation with Laca, was quite simply heart-breaking. It’s such a superbly written role that I’ve never seen a dull Jenufa, and in my opinion Duprels can join the lofty ranks of interpreters including Amanda Roocroft and Karita Mattila. This was her role debut and the prospect of her growing into the part is an exciting one.

Tom Randle‘s tenor has grown in vocal heft considerably and, as always, was a magnetic stage presence as Laca his cry of ‘Jenufa’ in Act Two pinned you to the back of your seat. He is no stranger to the London stage, but this must rank as one of his finest performances to date.

As the Kostelnicka, the lynchpin of the whole drama, Anne Mason conveyed all the pride, hurt, love and forgiveness Janacek invested into the character through a performance that bordered on histrionics but never went over the top. Her singing was sensational, whether in the fierce outbursts on the Second Act, or her more plangent, hushed utterings in the Third.

And so to Olivia Fuchs‘ production. I always feel that her stagings are like a bride on her wedding day something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Whilst she told the story more or less straight, in traditional sets and costumes, there were a few extraneous bits of business that added nothing to the story and were merely distracting. But Jenufa is a pretty much indestructible opera and the entire performance will surely go down as a milestone in Opera Holland Park’s history.

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