A Jenufa joins the legends of a century

A Jenufa joins the legends of a century


norman lebrecht

October 10, 2021

Some thoughts arising from watching Covent Garden’s Jenufa, available on slippedisc.com for the rest of the month.

Asmik Grigorian is an epic Jenufa in a lineage that stretches back on the world stage to Maria Jeritza in 1924. Neither naive nor weak, she sings through her love and agony with power and beauty, underscored with an irresistible humanity. Her performance, unforgettable, joins memories of Sena Jurinac, Marie Collier, Elisabeth Söderström, Gabriela Benackova and more.

Karita Mattila as the stepmother brings the wisdom of ages, having long sung the role of Jenufa herself. Despite some struggle early on with the low notes, she is an admirable foil to Jenufa’s innocence, achieving cruel self-knowledge in tiny steps.

Nicky Spence is a tad bumptious as hapless Laca and Saimir Pirgu is rather stiff as Steva. But this is an opera about women; the men are almost incidental.

Where the production turns problematic is when Claus Guth gets fussy, cluttering the composer Leoš Janáček’s clean lines with fashionable inessentials such as a row of beds in a dormitory and a crow sitting on top of a birthing crate. Why do we let directors undermine operas with detritus?

Ignore the clutter. This is an opera of total immersion, a work of genius, stunningly acted and sung.

Watch here.

Your thoughts?

ROH website promo pic



  • Bloom says:

    Yes, it was stunning. The music , the production and the cast (special mention for Karita Mattila s hugely moving Kostelnicka).

  • Michael Varcoe-Cocks says:

    If – as I understand – Jenufa was her step-daughter, why do some commentators describe her as her foster-daughter, which immediately eliminates the – surely important – family connection? Any Czech speakers help?

  • Nik says:

    I was there last night. It was a triumph. The ROH orchestra on exceptional form, and the strongest ensemble cast I have seen assembled on one stage in a long time.
    The production didn’t make a lot of sense to begin with (indeed, what’s with all the beds in the mill? looked more like a field hospital), but improved markedly from the second act onwards. I thought the wedding party in traditional costume but confined in a sparse, claustrophobic, box-like structure was perfectly judged.
    An evening to remember and treasure.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    It’s nice to read of this post-Covid (sort of) success at Covent Garden. Janacek operas are truly wonderful and deserve to be programmed more frequently. I was fortunate to see and hear Karita Mattila in a terrific, non-cluttered production of “The Makropulos Affair” in San Francisco, sometime in the latter 1990’s (I think).

  • pjl says:

    and opera is NOT elitist/expensive..how much is a Prem Lg football ticket? We got seats with 80% view of stage for £9 and no booking fee; booked after general booking opened.

  • Anonymous Bosch says:

    Uh … Norman, the opera is still performed in the Czech Republic under its original title, “Její pastorkyňa”, which translates as “Her Stepdaughter” (not “Her Foster Mother”).

  • Nijinsky says:

    I love this so much!
    And it was really restorative to hear an artist like Asmik Grigorian who does nothing but bring her humanity to the work, rather than light up the stage with varnish.