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I would have overlooked the new DVD of Jenůfa from the Deutsche Oper Berlin if I hadn’t been reviewing it. It’s not a favourite opera of mine, and so nothing about it would particularly encourage me to watch it. How wrong that would have been: Cristof Loy’s production is powerful, direct and true to the piece. It opens with the Kostelnička being led into a bare white room, her prison cell, from which she views the events retrospectively. The action remains within these confines, with just a sliding panel at the back showing the outside world and the passing of the seasons. It could be dull but it’s riveting, as Loy draws such committed performances from his cast that the focus remains entirely on the unfolding story and its characters.

Michela Kaune is a moving Jenůfa: her soprano possesses lyricism with a touch of metal, with some finely floated phrases. It’s a dramatically generous performance, as she allows the other characters to display their more overt emotionality without becoming merely passive herself. Will Hartmann has a strong tenor, and captures Laca’s conflicting moods subtly. Ladislav Elgr’s tenor is reedier, and he displays Števa’s superficial attractiveness and the underlying weak and self-pitying bully. Jennifer Larmore might not seem first choice for Kostelnička, the voice perhaps too well-behaved, the personality too sunny. However, she balances incredible stillness with some eruptions of penetrating tone, and the top of the range is no problem for her. It’s uncomfortable watching a character so at war with herself, and Larmore resists it becoming a diva turn; her self-containment is in itself a lesson in stagecraft. Donald Runnicles conducts, emphasising the lyric beauties of the score over its angularity. Brian Large’s direction for camera is exemplary.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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