Opera North’s revival of Jenufa, a story of emotional heartbreak is told on a stage so minimalistic and bare that the consuming emotion is highly amplified. The angular set is suitably fitting to the era and fashion of the time, it gives a semi abstract feel to the staging. The story begins with a young girl Jenufa (Ylva Kihlberg) who is optimistic about love and has set her heart on marrying Steva (Daniel Norman). We are then introduced to the character of Laca (David Butt Philip) whom is distraughtly in love with Jenufa. After Steva who has impregnated Jenufa returns drunk one night, Jenufa’s foster mother (Susan Bickley) refuses to bless their marriage.
The score is powerful, capturing the emotions of the characters impeccably, although the show is in English, subtitles are still used due to the overwhelming orchestra. Vocally the performance is strong, Ylva is a fitting soprano for the role of Jenufa, her vocal variations are highly compelling. Susan Bickley excellently portrays the role of the mother Kostelnicka, in the 1st Act her stage presence is commanding and her vocals outstanding. Her emotion is poignant and this is transparent during the 2nd Act as she commits a harrowing sin.
David Butt Philip plays the role of Laca remarkably, his character grows throughout the performance and he manages to hold the intensity of the character whilst also maintaining the vocal precision in the more sombre emotional scenes.
Conductor Aleksandar Marković occasionally allows the orchestra volume to overpower the performers therefore the audience lose some of the emotional connection. However as the performance progresses the balance between the orchestra and the singers is restored and their characterisation and expression is visible, heightening the emotion of the piece.
Director Tom Cairns also designed the costume and set, as mentioned the set is stylistic and displays the confusion and emotion of the characters, the lighting is impressive as the set is lit to intensify the mood of the production. The costume is a mix of 20th century pieces with a bohemian accent which reflect the setting of the opera, a mid 20th century Moravian village.
Jenufa is an opera exploding with potency and profound emotion communicated through a truly powerful score.
Information on Opera North’s Jenufa can be found here.