David Alden’s award-winning production of Janáček’s Jenufa returns to ENO and its impact is even more visceral than before. At its heart lies Amanda Roocroft’s heartbreaking assumption of the title role. Opera quite simply doesn’t get much better than this.
When David Alden’s production was new three years ago it rightly scooped a fistful of Olivier Awards, for best new opera production and greatest achievement in opera which was deservedly awarded to Amanda Roocroft for her searing portrayal of the title role. Three years later would the first revival be able to recreate the atmosphere that made its impact so great in 2006?
Well, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ and in many ways the first night of this revival was even more shattering than when it was new. Jenufa is one of those operas that rarely fails to make an impression, so carefully does Janáček delineate character that one can’t help being drawn into the tragedy, yet despite the fact that this was my 13th performance of the work it came across with such visceral power that it left me totally shell-shocked, and I left the theatre emotionally drained but on a theatrical high.
Alden had been on hand to revive the production himself and it showed. No glance or movement was superfluous to the text, and for a director who’s often blamed for excess, the restraint he shows here is commendable. Despite, or maybe because of this, the performances he draws from the entire cast are utterly believable and so thoroughly-thought through that one is inexorably drawn into the drama from start to finish.
If anything Amanda Roocroft’s Jenufa is even more finely-tuned and focussed than before. Her journey from ecstatic young girl in Act One to the broken character we see by the end of the opera is heartbreaking. But it’s in Act Two where she really raises the bar and delivers such a gut-wrenching portrayal of a woman’s mental and physical breakdown, that it confirms her position as one of this country’s greatest singing-actresses.
She was fortunate to be surrounded by such a strong supporting cast. American mezzo Michaela Martens made an auspicious European debut in the role of Kostelnicka, the lynchpin of the drama. She did not dominate proceedings in the same way that Catherine Malfitano did when the production was new, but this allowed for far more balance on stage. In many ways Martens’s portrayal of Jenufa’s step-mother was more believable and despite her voice occasionally becoming shrill under pressure, her performance was a vocal and theatrical tour-de-force.
Tom Randle was perfect casting as the feckless Steva whilst Robert Brubaker delivered a heartfelt performance as Laca. All the smaller roles were cast from strength, making this a night that will live long in the memory. In the pit Eivind Gullberg Jensen was a distinct improvement on his predecessor, coaxing wonderful playing from the orchestra throughout the evening and providing perfect support for his singers. There are only four more performances miss it at your peril!