Jenufa, Glyndebourne Festival, Glyndebourne

Secrets and lies
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The Independent Culture

Fifteen years on from its Glyndebourne premiere, Nikolaus Lehnhoff's searing staging of Janacek's Jenufa still keeps up appearances. That's not a judgement; that's the key to its effectiveness. Beneath the pristine, well-scrubbed surfaces, fear and resentment fester. Tobias Hoheisel's designs show us one thing: contentment, order, a picturesque homeliness; the inhabitants show us quite another. When the locals trash Jenufa's home in the final moments of the production - still a tremendous, shocking moment - they fly in the face of our heroine's humbling magnanimity, her need to forgive and move on; they are affronted not by the murder of her baby, but by the fact that it was born at all - out of wedlock. It offends their sense of order. It plays to the self-righteousness of their closed community. Welcome to humanity.

Fifteen years on from its Glyndebourne premiere, Nikolaus Lehnhoff's searing staging of Janacek's Jenufa still keeps up appearances. That's not a judgement; that's the key to its effectiveness. Beneath the pristine, well-scrubbed surfaces, fear and resentment fester. Tobias Hoheisel's designs show us one thing: contentment, order, a picturesque homeliness; the inhabitants show us quite another. When the locals trash Jenufa's home in the final moments of the production - still a tremendous, shocking moment - they fly in the face of our heroine's humbling magnanimity, her need to forgive and move on; they are affronted not by the murder of her baby, but by the fact that it was born at all - out of wedlock. It offends their sense of order. It plays to the self-righteousness of their closed community. Welcome to humanity.

To understand this wonderful opera, to fully realise its dramatic potential, we need to understand the actions of Jenufa's stepmother, the Kostelnicka. Kathryn Harries has a tough act following Anja Silja in the role, but does so here with tremendous courage and abandon. Lehnhoff sets her up memorably within minutes of her first entrance. There's a frozen moment, a glimpse of her inner turmoil, as she throws a damper on the party to celebrate Jenufa and Steva's impending wedding. Steva is drunk, Steva is weak, and in him she sees her own late husband - a brutish wastrel.

It's a moment that can almost pass an audience by, but Lehnhoff literally stops the show for it. He has Laca, the jealous rival for Jenufa's hand, physically still the mill wheel; for a moment, life doesn't go on, the action freezes, and in a single spotlight, the Kostelnicka recalls her past; the life before.

It's the first of many moments in which Kathryn Harries shows us what really lies inside this character's heart, the person behind the hatchet face and austere manner. She never demonises the role, though heaven knows she milks the melodrama. There is that memorable line about the illegitimate child "gnawing at her soul"; or the chill wind that has her staring death in the face at the harrowing close of Act II.

But it's the tenderness of her performance that we remember, the moment when she implores Laca to save her "joyous daughter" by taking her hand in marriage; and the intensity of her pianissimo singing, an unearthly keening like a deep hurt in her soul.

She is wonderfully complemented by the Jenufa of Orla Boylan, who sings with a full heart and fearless attack, and is similarly affecting in repose, her pretty face expressing so much of what remains unsung. As Steva, Par Lindskog is better suited to Janacek's grittiness than he was to Wagner's lyric flights at ENO recently. Robert Brubaker is thrillingly full-on as Laca, the high tessitura memorably locked into the passion of the character everybody misjudges.

There were earthy, well-rounded cameos from Susan Gorton as Grandmother Buryja, and Eiddwen Harrhy as the loud-mouthed and loudly attired Mayor's Wife.

The conductor Markus Stenz ensured that all the nerve endings of this sensational score were fully exposed. Forceful playing from the London Philharmonic brought the palpitating xylophone, the raw stopped horns, the serrated rhythms and brutal exclamations into sharp relief. But it was the lyricism that prevailed, and in that, more than in any of his scores, Janacek clung on to his faith in human nature.

To 28 August (01273 813813)

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