Performed in the original Czech with Czech and English subtitles.
Premiere on 2nd October 2015, Janacek Theatre
Jenůfa is one of Janáček´s most famous works. It has its roots in a realistic drama by G. Preissová (1862–1946), which Janáček adapted himself into the form of an opera libretto. Even though he had to shorten the text of the drama significantly, he managed to heighten the impact of this tragic story from rural Moravia. The protagonists include wasteful and unstable Števa, fierce Laca, who hides a heart of gold, and most of all the unrelenting Kostelnička, whose efforts to maintain her position and respect in the village community lead her to murder the child of Jenůfa. Janáček (1854–1928) captured the individual characters in a masterful, condensed drama that sends chills down one´s spine while simultaneously awakening compassion and understanding within us. It took Janáček nearly nine years to create Jenůfa. He finished the first act of the opera in 1897, while the second and the third were created under circumstances that were extremely tragic for the Janáček family. In 1902, the composer´s daughter Olga became seriously ill during a visit to Janáček´s brother in Saint Petersburg. Janáček completed the second act of the opera after Olga´s return home, and the third immediately before her death in February 1903. He dedicated Jenůfa to the memory of his daughter. Janáček wanted the premiere of the opera to be at the National Theatre in Prague, but he was refused with the explanation that the opera wasn´t suitable for performance on a leading Czech stage. The premiere thus took place in Brno on 21st January 1904, and it was an incredible success. It took until 1915 to persuade the management of the Prague theatre and the conductor Karel Kovařovic to perform Jenůfa. However, after the very successful Prague premiere on 26. 5. 1916, Janáček finally because successful as a composer not only in the Czech environment but also world-wide.
The beautiful Jenůfa waits, fearing that her beloved Števa has been taken off to join the army. She is expecting his child and his departure would jeopardise the forthcoming marriage. Števa’s stepbrother Laca also carries a fl ame for Jenůfa and asks her about Števa. The delighted Števa arrives with his friends and musicians at the mill – he had not been taken away and, together with the other recruits, celebrate their fortune with drink. Jenůfa’s strict guardian Kostelnička sees the riotous company with Števa in front of them all she announces that she would only give her consent for a marriage between Jenůfa and Števa after a probation year, during which Števa would not be allowed to drink. Laca convinces Jenůfa that Števa loves her only because of her beauty, and during the argument he cuts her face with a knife.
In fear of disgrace Kostelnička hides Jenůfa in her home and claims to everybody that she has left for Vienna. In the meantime Jenůfa has given birth to a son. Whilst Jenůfa is sleeping, Kostelnička humbles herself before Števa and begs him to marry Jenůfa. For Števa, however, Jenůfa’s scarred face has rendered her ugly and besides, he is already engaged to the daughter of the Mayor. Laca arrives and asks Kostelnička to hand over Jenůfa to him. When Kostelnička gives away the secret to him that Jenůfa had given birth to Števa’s child, he is shocked. Seeing his doubts, Kostelnička in desperation lies that the child had died immediately aft er the birth. As soon as Laca leaves, Kostelnička drowns the child in an icy river and convinces Jenůfa that she had slept for several days in a fever and the little boy had died in the meantime. The devastated Jenůfa agrees to a marriage with Laco.
During the preparations for the wedding between Jenůfa and Laca the news breaks out that a dead child had been found in the river. Jenůfa recognises her little boy’s bonnet and the suspicion of murder falls upon her. Kostelnička admits her crime in front of the assembled guests. Before the Mayor leads her off to court, Jenůfa forgives her, for she understands that she did it out of love for her. Jenůfa does not believe that Laca would still want her and sends him away. Laca however wants to stay by her side and promises that he would be with her even in the bad times. Jenůfa realises that she has found her true love „and God is pleased with it“.