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Janáček Jenufa

Anne Sophie Duprels (Jenufa), Anne Mason (Kostelnicka), Tom Randle (Laca), Aldo Di Toro (Steva), Nuala Willis (Burya), Jonathan Best (Foreman), Richard Suart (Mayor), Pippa Longworth (Mayor's Wife), Lisa Crosato (Karolka), Helen Winter (Barena), Hannah Pedley (Herdswoman), Helen Court (Jano)

Director: Olivia Fuchs.
Designer: Yannis Thavoris
City Of London Sinfonia, Opera Holland Park Chorus/Stuart Stratford

Opera Holland Park 13 June 2007

Olivia Fuchs' production of Jenufa has received well deserved accolades from all sides and I can but endorse the excellence of Anne Sophie Duprels in the title role and Anne Mason as the Kostelnicka, with fine characterisation of all the minor players in the tragedy, culminating in its final optimistic reversal of fortunes with good hope of a successful marriage between Jenufa and Laca (Tom Randle) at the end. This great opera tends to bring out the best in directors and opera singers.

Musical Pointers reviewed last year's ENO Jenufa production and Alexa Woolf covered that at Glyndebourne in 2000.

Olivia Fuchs, on a smaller budget and mounting her Jenufa in OHP's new tent yields nothing to either of them. (Her OHP Fidelio easily eclpised Covent Garden's recent production, and Macbeth too was one of the best regular operagoers can remember.) She has a dream cast of principals and malleable singer/actors for all the rest of a large cast, who have to be moved in and out of Jenufa's foster-mother's cramped living quarters across the wide and narrow stage at Holland Park. This is achieved with aplomb, and I particularly liked her management of the friends and villagers in the non-realistic scenes with dances, throwbacks to the Czech village opera conventions, alongside Janacek's new verismo style, with his development of 'speech melody', its phrase repetitions actually helpful in keeping track of the complex story, aided by Hastie & Dearsley's surtitles, which always pointed the turn of events with a significant phrase. For the main protagonists, every gesture and movement was apt and telling.

Most reviewers have concentrated on the singers, so I stress particularly Olivia Fuchs' brilliant deployment of them all in Yannis Thavoris's clever settings which suggest all that Janacek fills with the changing emphases of his music, given in the original version, now restored into common usage (q.v. Gavin Plumley's article in the Programme Magazine). The score was presented with power and finesse by the City of London Sinfonia under Stuart Stratford, an OHP regular, and one of UKs most accomplished and versatile conductors, remembered for undertaking productions in most London venues, including, memorably, his marshalling of the forces for Jonathan Dove's community opera at Hackney. A real pleasure at OHP is the close contact the orchestra has with the stage and with the passing audience, this gives an enhanced feeling of community in contrast with those opera venues where the pit is so deep that the musicians never see what happens on stage. Although the Jenufa orchestra is a large one, there was no problem of singers being drowned and having to force their voices through to us.

OHP's Jenufa will go into the annals as one of the great achievements of Opera Holland Park, now ensconced in a more comfortable tent-theatre, with good sight-lines, improved acoustics and new seats with arm rests, adequate leg room and no longer any risk of losing things down the gaps between the rows!

We are perfectly comfortable with the famous peacocks (and deplore the enforced cull in the Paignton zoo, from where we learned that they only screech for about six weeks in the year - those happening to coincide with the opera season!) and do appreciate that OHP's Michael Volpe may not have Benjamin Britten's clout (he persuaded the local air base to desist from fly jets over the venues during the Aldeburgh Festival events!) - London's helicopters were particlularly intrusive this evening. But I do wonder that it has seemed not possible to negotiate with the neighbours to turn off the adjacent fountain during opera performances?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Do look up the other reviews in OHP's website, and ours of Jenufa at http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/JanacekJenufaENO06.htm

Jenufa image by Caroline Blackburn