Major Operas | Jenůfa by Leoš Janáček | Modern Era
First performed on 21 January 1904 in Brno, Jenůfa was later revised and in 1916 received its first performance in Prague under the direction of Karel Kovarovic. He only agreed to direct the opera after submitting to persuasive pressure from friends and colleagues, but he also insisted on making changes to the orchestration.
The raw naturalism of the text and the declamatory sounds of the Czech language produced violent, sometimes shocking effects that contributed to a Czech literary movement called ‘social realism’. In the play upon which this work was based, author Gabriela Preissovà did not sentimentalize the harsh and brutal realities of country life, and Janáček strived to create a more natural-feeling opera by ‘through-composing’ without including any stops or individual numbers.
Janáček’s two-year-old son Vladimír died of meningitis four years before work commenced on this opera, and the composer completed the score and played it to his 20-year-old daughter Olga just four days before she too died.
Premiered: 1904, Brno
Libretto by the composer, after Gabriela Preissová’s play
Grandmother Buryjovka owns a watermill. Her elder son’s first wife had a son, Laca, by an earlier marriage. Her younger son, who had a daughter, Jenůfa, by his first wife, later married Petrona Slomková, the Kostelnicka (sacristan). Although he is the elder half-brother, Laca works as a hired hand for Steva, who will inherit the mill. Jenůfa is now pregnant by her cousin Steva.
If Steva is not conscripted, Jenůfa can marry him without anyone discovering her secret. Laca accuses Grandmother Buryjovka of never showing him any love. The foreman sharpens Laca’s knife. Laca is openly jealous of Steva. Jenůfa is overjoyed that Steva is coming home, but Laca rails at the injustice. Steva returns with the recruits and demands to know what gives Jenůfa the right to accuse him of being drunk: he owns the mill and all the girls love him. He calls for dancing and grabs Jenůfa. Interrupting, the Kostelnicka declares that all the Buryja men are alike. Her own husband drank and beat her. Is that what Jenůfa wants? She may marry Steva only if he gives up drinking for a year. Jenůfa is horrified at the delay. She threatens to kill herself if he leaves her. Laca mocks Steva, but Jenůfa claims he is worth one hundred Lacas. He tries to kiss her. As she pushes him away his knife cuts her across the cheek. Barena has seen what happened and says it was an accident, but the foreman claims Laca did it on purpose.
Jenůfa is hiding in the cottage of the Kostelnicka, who has told everyone she has gone to Vienna. Jenůfa’s baby is now one week old. The Kostelnicka tells her to pray for the baby to die and gives her a sleeping-draught. While she sleeps, Steva offers to pay for the...
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