JENUFA by Leos Janácek, directed by Nicholas Muni, conducted by Richard Bradshaw, with Helen Field, Eva Urbanová, Miroslav Dvorsky and John Mac Master. Presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). January 31 and February 6 at 8 pm, February 4 at 7 pm, matinee February 9 at 2 pm. $38-$140, limited $20-$25 ages 18 to 29. 416-872-2262. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Czech composer Leos Janacek takes a dominating stepmother, several distraught lovers, an illegitimate child and the theme of forgiveness, blends them with folk-inspired tunes and a melodic score and creates Jenu-fa, a 20th-century masterpiece. It's also, as this revival proves, one of the Canadian Opera Company's most moving and impressive productions.The passionate Jenufa (Helen Field) loves and plans to wed womanizing drinker Steva (Miroslav Dvorsk´y), and she in turn is loved by Steva's half-brother Laca (John Mac Master). But the desires of this trio are mere breezes compared to the hurricane emotions of the widow Kostelniccka (Eva Urbanová), Jenufa's proud, religious stepmother, who sees in the weak Steva the hated image of her own drunken husband.
From the start of director Nicholas Muni's production, Urbanová's Kostelniccka dominates the action, first as a black-gowned figure sitting with her back to the audience, and then as an impressive singing actor whose whispers, shrieks and invocations are charged with electricity.
Muni brings out the complexities in all four central figures, allowing them sympathy even when their actions are mean-spirited or tyrannical. Kostelniccka, for instance, is maternally protective as well as fearful of her reputation, and pays for a murderous deed with wracking guilt. Laca's love for Jenu°fa is true, but he's goaded by her into a violent act.
Playing on Derek McLane's raked set, dominated by a huge millwheel, lit dramatically by Michael Whitfield so that shadows are as meaningful as live figures, the company -- and conductor Richard Bradshaw in the pit -- make the most of all the emotion and tension in the gripping piece.
Jenufa is pure operatic gold.