Magazine article Opera Canada

Germany: Munich

Magazine article Opera Canada

Germany: Munich

Article excerpt

It doesn't happen often that the squad of jaded critics--this one included--sheds unrepentant tears at the conclusion of an opera. For one, most operas don't have the dramatic and musical wherewithal to get anywhere near eliciting emotions that strong. And of the few that do, the direction and acting of the singers can still undermine being truly awestruck with a big lump in your throat.

Janacek is among those most likely to thoroughly appeal to all our senses, and in the case of the an April premiere at the Bavarian State Opera, it was his Jenufa where everything came together to make for an unforgettable--evening of opera.

Very different from the previous premieres of the new Nikolaus Bachler regime, Barbara Frey's Jenufa wasn't stylistically daring or interpretively provocative and certainly not in any way flashy. A theatre director by day, Frey went for the most human, most realistic approach to the drama, taking Janacek's music and libretto seriously. The result was un-operatic, lacking grand gestures and pathos. And precisely that made it a terrific, terrifying experience that snuck up on the audience.

Why the chorus and non-principals were slightly disfigured with zombie-like face masks, I do not know; nor did I care except in the first few minutes. Because as soon as Joseph Kaiser hit the stage with his drunkenly swaggering, pompous yet vacuously innocent Steva, suspense took hold and didn't let go until the last notes. Infused with Eva-Maria Westbroek's searing pain as Jenufa, well sung and still more touchingly acted, the title role had an emotional centre at once exposed to--and imperilled by--others' actions, but never just a passive ball in the courts of Kostelnicka, Steva and Laca; not even with Deborah Polaski and Stefan Margita, highlights among highlights, turning in performances worthy of every superlative.

Following the climactic turmoil and one of the most severe silences in opera, Laca and Jenufa timidly, quietly approached each other in that ambiguously optimistic E-flat major epilogue. They did so by inching towards each other, their hands touching in reserved recognition of the last chance at happiness they have.

The set by Bettina Meyer, which could equally serve a production of Peter Grimes, didn't intrude on the direction for two acts. In the third, Kostelnicka's claustrophobia-inducing shack on the sea shore, shorn of its walls, became the ingeniously uncomfortable and awkward place for the wedding festivities. …

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