Jenufa, Royal Opera House, London

Janacek's finest moment

A collector's item, no doubt about that. You could have played out this entire performance in rehearsal clothes and on an empty stage and still conveyed its vivid sense of time and place, of a simple, insular people grappling with their needs, their desires, their pride while caught in the vortex that is tradition, God, and nature.

A collector's item, no doubt about that. You could have played out this entire performance in rehearsal clothes and on an empty stage and still conveyed its vivid sense of time and place, of a simple, insular people grappling with their needs, their desires, their pride while caught in the vortex that is tradition, God, and nature.

Yes, an empty stage would have been good. Actually, Olivier Tambosi's production, first seen in Hamburg three years ago, is inclined towards a spacious minimalism. At first glance, Frank Philipp Schlossmann's design – scrubbed pine, blue sky, and corn – suggests both the openness of the wider world and the stifling environment in which this drama unfolds. Gaunt pine walls stand ready to close in on our protagonists, like the doors of some inner-world that is their only refuge from the elements.

But then comes the heavy-handed symbolism: the rock. In Act I it is bursting through the splintered wooden floor – an unwanted issue of nature that it doesn't take too much imagination to equate with Jenufa's pregnancy. By Act II it has arrived, an abomination, a disruption to the Buryjovka household. Jenufa dreams she is being crushed by it (at least, that's the textual justification). And as her world shatters, so too does the rock, ending in Act III as so many stones ready for casting by self-righteous villagers. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. But that's the silliness of the metaphor. It doesn't work. It isn't necessary.

Tambosi's strength is his clarity. He sets up beautifully the character of Jenufa's betrothed Steva, played here with great energy by a rather too old Jerry Hadley (the one questionable piece of casting). The scene of his arrival is key because it shows him for what he is: a boorish, selfish, opportunist drunk. That he makes such an exhibition of himself – and Tambosi really lays it on here – lends greater credibility to Jenufa's stepmother, the Kostelnicka, a role now owned body and soul by Anja Silja. The relationship between her and her stepdaughter, finding their love for each other in the perversity of their circumstance, is Tambosi's finest achievement here. The moment in Act II where the Kostelnicka for once defies her inner voices and locks Jenufa in a natural mother's embrace is simply overwhelming. A small moment with huge implications for the unfolding drama.

That drama is, of course, fully centred on Karita Mattila's radiant and thrilling Jenufa. Her big notes, her big phrases – and, my goodness, they are big – carry her heartache and hope in equal measure. And she is wonderful at identifying and holding those still, visionary moments, reserving her most glacial sound for them. Hers is the sound of hope as surely as Silja's is the sound of torment. And then there is the almost unbearable intensity of Jorma Silvasti's Laca, whose passion for Jenufa I have never heard conveyed more forcefully or meaningfully. At the close of Act II, the Kostelnicka has Laca, Jenufa, and herself lock hands in a desperate gesture of solidarity. A holy trinity born of fear and shame. But a family nonetheless.

All the small-part casting is equally strong. A lot of history rides on seeing Eva Randova, now moving into the next generation of matriarchs as Grandmother Buryjovka, share a stage with Silja. Forces of nature, both. And if we might have hoped for Bernard Haitink to be more of a force of nature in the pit, in terms, that is, of the score's untamed abrasiveness, the amazing beauty of what he and his orchestra achieved was undeniable. Great performances of Jenufa leave you feeling that Janacek wrote nothing finer. This was one.

Further performances Thurs, 10, 13, 16 & 19 Oct, 020-7304 4000

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick