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Review: Jenufa, English National Opera

This was my first opera and I was drawn by the synopsis:

Loved by two half-brothers, Jenůfa is secretly pregnant by one of them. Concerned for the family’s reputation, her step-mother commits an unspeakable act in the hope that Jenůfa does not remain alone. But when a baby’s body is found on the wedding day, the devastating truth is revealed to all.

It has everything I expect in an opera; dishonour and secrets and the industrial setting makes the piece feel even darker.

Laura Wilde is exceptional in her European debut as Jenůfa, a woman in love with the swaggering lothario Števa it is clear that Jenůfa’s expectations of love and marriage after being impregnated by Steva (a richly voiced and swaggering Nicky Spence) will not come to pass. To add injury to insult Jenůfa is then slashed by Števa’s half-brother Laca (Peter Hoare), who injures her as he loves her and cannot bear to see her with Števa.

The most interesting scenes involve the chorus, such as the wedding where the tragedy really unfolds and the drunken introduction of Števa but as a production it doesn’t give them much to do and it is a real shame to have a lavish space such as the Colliseum not put to good use with impressive staging or even a skilled chorus. It more than makes up for it with the beautiful score and stunning orchestral arrangements. It is a real shame that Mark Wigglesworth is leaving the ENO as it will be a tough act to follow as the new musical director.

The most interesting role and performance is from Michaela Martens as Kostelnička, Jenůfa’s harsh step-mother, whose pride and honour lead her to do a despicable act. It could easily become a wicked stepmother role but Martens shows the light and darkness of the character through her incredible voice and performance.

As first operas go I would recommend attending but even if you are a seasoned opera attendee this is worth your time.



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