The explosion of violence which almost halts Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s 1989 staging of Janacek’s Jenufa minutes before the final curtain still resonates in ways one cannot quite fathom and in this stonking revival for Glyndebourne on Tour it arrives with a heartbreaking inevitability that is genuinely shocking.
This is the moment where all the cosily picturesque elements of this ‘everyday story of country folk’, as visualised in crisply naïve detail by Tobias Hoheisel, are finally stripped bare to reveal the ugly brutality beneath.
But that isn’t the final action or the final word. The best excesses of human nature can and will trump the worst - and if what follows doesn’t humble you in some small way then nothing will. The great strength of this revival – directed with real intelligence and force by Daniel Dooner – is that it looks far beyond the primary motivations and actions of the opera’s principal characters and diligently explores the emotional, spiritual, and moral in-betweens.
The unifying performance – and what a performance -of the evening comes from Anne Mason as Jenufa’s stepmother, the Kostelnicka, whose determination to give her stepdaughter a better life than hers drives this essentially decent woman to an unspeakable act. That we can so completely read and understand the emotional journey that takes her there is a huge tribute to both singer and director. When in act one this tight-waisted, buttoned-up, woman stands centre stage to reveal the depths of a lifetime’s disillusionment the light that goes out within her goes out on stage, too. I don’t think I have ever been quite so moved by her scene with the wastrel Steva where she goes down on her knees to beg him to rescue her stepdaughter and his illegitimate child from social disgrace. More often that not we see two-dimensional Kostelnickas – not so with Mason. The emotional range of her singing draws us in so close it’s uncomfortable. Tremendous.
So, too, Giselle Allen in the title role, a performance of terrific emotional and vocal reach, and one which one feels is enabled, opened up, by what Mason gives her in the searing second act. Pavel Cernoch’s weak-willed Steva and Peter Wedd’s big-hearted Laca are both unstintingly credible, too.
And the main protagonist, Janacek’s orchestra, harnessed by Robin Ticciati with such precision and awareness and sensitivity as to have every nerve-end jangling. If you can get to Woking, Stoke-on-Trent, Norwich, Milton Keynes, or Plymouth, then you’ve a chance to catch one of the operatic performances of the year.