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Jenufa at the Washington National Opera

Mother\’s Day at the Washington National Opera this afternoon was not your typical Sunday fare. Jenufa by Leos Janacek gives a new meaning to dear olde mother. Without giving the complete plot away, lets just say that it\’s not an opera that most mothers want their children to remember them by.

Sung in Czech, the performance was wonderful and Patricia Racette in the role of Jenufa was superb. As you might have gathered, the opera is troubling but the music is so enchanting that the singing is perfectly in sync that one doesn\’t even notice the singers\’ breathing. This led me to think: I wonder what this opera would sound like in another language? But Janacek so tightly fit the music to the singing that the effect would ruin the opera, I believe.

The lovers, Kim Begley as Laca and Raymond Very as Steva were perfectly cast not only for the breadth of their voices but also for their visual attractiveness. No wonder Jenufa falls for both of them.

And then the stepmother, the Kostelnicka, played by Catherine Malfitano keeps the tension going to the end. It is she who one would not want as a mother or stepmother. Malfitano is convincing and sung her role so eloquently that one leaves feeling sorry that perhaps forgiving her is not out of line but she must still pay for her sin.

So poor Jenufa realizes that the one she loves is the very man who slashed her face out of jealousy and desire, making this traumatic opera end in an uplifting spirit. Not what one would have thought, but then opera is not for reality but this opera somehow reflects true life perhaps more realistically than most operas.

Jenufa will play at the Kennedy Center through May 24, 2007. If you love opera, treat yourself to this surprisingly brilliant afternoon or evening at the opera.

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