Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Janacek: Jenufa
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on February 10, 2004
Knowing this recording and reliving it in the theater (if it is a good performence) is one of those experiences one doesn't forget easily. Like Puccini, Janacek appeals to our hearts. The two principle women deserve all the credit. Söderstöm sounds very much as the young peasant girl deserted by her lover. Listening to Randova one hears that she is a great singing actress. The supporting roles are very well cast and one couldn't ask for a more dedicated chorus and orchestra under the baton of Mackerras. This one is hard to beat.
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on September 17, 2004
This is really a brilliant opera. This is no belcanto, catchy-tunes, Verdi-style type of opera. It is a raw rural drama with sex, blood and deadly rage. There are several good things going for it:

(i) Although the story is hair-raising at times (infanticide), it is entirely credible (no babies mistakenly thrown in the fire here, unlike in Verdi's Il Trovattore) - this opera's libretto was not ordered to be written from scratch, it was first a stage play before becoming a libretto. For that reason, it had to have a convincing internal logic to succeed first as a play.

(ii) Janacek's music adds greatly to the story. The scene, in the third act, where the crime of infanticide is uncovered will send shivers down your spine.

(iii) Janacek is very good in using folk music motives. The opera is set in Moravian countryside and the music shows it. Apparently, he could come up with such convincing folk-sounding tunes that many experts thought them to be genuine folk songs, only arranged for opera.

(iv) The singing is good on this recoding. All the singers try hard to convey the emotion of their piece: they had to be very well acquaninted with the text - which is in Czech, an obscure language for many of the performers.

(v) The accompanying booklet does a great job explaining the background of the opera. And explaining you will need - for understanding the personal interrelationships alone.
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on December 19, 2012
Leos Janacek's first major work, "Jenufa", was written late in his life, with the premiere occurring when the composer was 50 and the first major opera house performance given when he was 62. I found this opera beautiful. Charles Mackerras and Elisabeth Soderstrom headline a very successful recording.

What is "Jenufa" about? Based on a play about the Moravian middle class written by Gabriella Preissova - significantly, a woman - it tells us about Jenufa's passion for a rich, popular heir (the alpha male), who knocks her up. Jenufa's stepmother, sung by Czech mezzo Eva Randova in the other major role, kills the baby to spare Jenufa in a crime that is both vicious and kind-hearted from her own fate: of marrying the worthless heir and living unhappily ever after. The third act is one of forgiveness and redemption, in which Jenufa marries a lower status, but more stable man and accepts her stepmother's crime and the motives behind it. Based on his work here and elsewhere, Janacek was a gifted adapter of plays for his own operas. The events are not presented luridly and the four main characters have depth.

The music in style lies between the later music of Antonin Dvorak and Janacek's music from his last period, which produced major works like "Kata Kabanova", the string quartets and "The Makropoulos Affair" (among many others). The melodic interest is mostly located in the orchestral parts, with the voices being used in a declamatory way, Janacek emphasizing speech rhythms. While I didn't find "Jenufa" to be up to the level of a masterpiece like "Kat'a Kabanova" or the lovely Sonata 1905, it is an excellent opera that I recommend to you.

Charles Mackerras' reputation as a great conductor and an outstanding advocate of Janacek is well supported by this recording, helped by the Vienna Philharmonic's adept and lush performance. The two female leads, Soderstrom in the title role and Randova as Kostelnicka, are very good. I'll point to one moment in Act III (the middle of disc 2/track 6), where Randova is matched against just the violins with all other instruments falling away, as particularly memorable. But there are many good numbers beyond this one, all helped by a very solid supporting cast.

The issue is helped by a comprehensive set of notes, from which I learned a tremendous amount about the composer and the long efforts to establish it on the stage. This release, by the way, is the first to use Janacek's own orchestral scoring, after decades of most productions using a re-orchestration by another musician (why I don't know - Janacek is a very skilled orchestrator). The set also includes a discarded overture, "Jealousy", musically unrelated to "Jenufa." I listened to the initial CD release of this recording, not the remaster, with the sound being very good. 5 stars for an excellent release.
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on December 9, 2005
Jenufa is the most lyrical of all Janacek's opera's. It is also one of the most dramatic. Eva Randova's brilliant and affecting performance as Kostelnicka brings out the beauty of music and the tragedy of the role. Elizabeth Soderstrom's Jenufa is beautifully sung and well-acted. Her "Zdravas Kralovno (Ave Maria)" is a bright gem in a beautiful setting.

Personally, I think Mackerras' reading of the overture is as it should be: loud and full of brass, like Janacek's Sinfonietta.
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on March 16, 2003
Janacek compuso algunas de las mejores óperas del Siglo XX: Jenufa, Kata Kavanova, El Caso Makropulos, La Zorra Astuta y Desde la casa de los Muertos avalan este hecho. Jenufa es la primera de estas y la primera además en ser escrita en un estilo distintivamente individual - su primera obra maestra- y la primera en darle fama fuera de Checoslovaquia. Esta grabación es la primera en ofrecer la versión original de Janacek, ya que desde la segunda puesta en escena en Praga, la versión que había persistido fue la de Karel Kovarovic, de la cual puede escucharse la escena final en esta grabación. En esta grabación se puede escuchar la obertura original, que fue retirada después de 1908 y vuelta a interpretar como parte de la ópera hasta 1959: Zárlivost.
Sir Charles Mackerras muestra el porque es el mejor exponente actual de la mùsica de Janacek, su interpretación está llena de detalles. El sonido como siempre es de lo mejor, tiene el sello distintivo de Decca: Gran balance, brillantez, fuerza en los graves y agudos claros, en fin una extraordinaria grabación. La interpretación es excelente: Elisabeth Söderström, canta en mi opinión estupendamente a pesar de varios críticos que opinan lo contrario, su interpretación llega a ser francamente conmovedora. Eva Randová soporta el otro papel importante: Kostelnika y su interpretación es excelente en mi opinión. Considero que ésta es la mejor grabación que existe en el mercado y el punto de referencia para las demás. Si alguien quiere introducirse en este gran compositor, ésta es la ópera más adecuada, la recomiendo ampliamente.
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on July 23, 2011
Sorry, I am not able to write my review in English.

Leos Janácek, né en 1854 et mort en 1928, est un des inventeurs de la modernité en musique au même titre que l'école de Vienne ou que Stravinsky. Ses oeuvres vraiment importantes datent d'ailleurs de son âge mûr et de sa vieillesse, c'est à dire du XXe siècle. La différence avec les autres créateurs d'avant-garde, c'est qu'il n'a pas eu de postérité et que sa musique ne ressemble à aucune autre. Ce qu'elle a de particulier vient notamment du caractère indépendant du compositeur, mais aussi de ce qu'elle s'inspire de la parole tchèque. Pour Jenufa, en tchèque Její Pastorkyna (avec un accent circonflexe inversé sur le n, j'avertis que je ne pourrai pas reproduire tous les diacritiques), c'est à dire Sa Belle-Fille (comprendre sa *fillâtre, pas sa bru), trois dates sont importantes : 1904, la création à Brno, 1908, révision pour l'impression, 1916, création, enfin, à la capitale dans une version édulcorée par Kovarovic, directeur musical du Théâtre national de Prague, avec un grand succès. C'est l'époque des premières pièces atonales de Schoenberg, des Demoiselles d'Avignon, avant d'être celle du Sacre du Printemps, toutes oeuvres qu'on doit à des artistes nettement plus jeunes que Janácek.

Quand on écoute Jenufa, on n'est pas égaré par l'absence de tonalité, même si on en change souvent, mais l'écoute suppose une attention très soutenue. En musique de fond, Jenufa serait insupportable, ressentie comme hirsute et agressive, sauf si on la connaît par coeur. Avec un haut degré de concentration et à condition de suivre le livret, ce qui est moins facile qu'il ne paraît car la graphie de la langue tchèque ne permet pas forcément de reconnaître ce qu'on entend, tout devient expressif et direct, malgré les stridences, la violence et surtout la crudité, mots qui tentent de définir l'impression que laisse cette musique. Tout va très vite d'ailleurs chez Janácek, ce qui renforce la nécessité de l'attention. Au début, il est préférable d'écouter par brefs extraits. Le problème ne se pose plus quand on s'est familiarisé avec ce langage apparemment brut mais aussi savant que celui de Wagner.

Ce double CD est le premier enregistrement de la version de 1908, la seule qui est entièrement de la plume de Janácek, les précédents utilisant la version trafiquée par Kovarovic, mais que Janácek avait acceptée; ceux de Jaroslav Vogel Janácek: Jenufa et de Frantisek Jílek Janácek - Jenufa / Benackova · Nadazda Kniplová · Krejcík · Príbyl · Bruno Janácek Opera Orchestra · Jílek ayant très bonne réputation. Mackerras a d'ailleurs enregistré une deuxième fois la scène finale dans la version de Kovarovic, un passage où ce dernier avait eu la main lourde. On trouve aussi un autre bonus, celui de l'ouverture Zárlivost, "Jalousie" initialement prévue pour Jenufa. Chef australien mais qui a su devenir en musique aussi tchèque qu'un Tchèque, Mackerras, bien aidé par la souplesse soyeuse et fine des Wiener Philharmoniker, fait s'exprimer avec clarté et transparence tous les caractères de cette musique un peu crue et cruelle, bien adaptée à une intrigue qui ne manque pas de dureté, malgré un cadre rural qui ne doit pas rassurer. Il évite ainsi d'arrondir ce qui ne doit pas l'être et de noyer dans la confusion la complexité vocale et orchestrale. Cette transparence est bien servie par la prise de son Decca de 1983, les mérites de l'enregistrement allant dans le sens de ceux de l'interprétation (pour mémoire, avec Haitink au Covent Garden en 2001, c'est plutôt le contraire). Ne confondez pas avec une autre Jenufa de Mackerras, chez Chandos, qui est chantée en anglais.

Les deux rôles principaux sont ceux de Jenufa et de sa belle-mère, Kostelnicka "la Sacristine". La distribution est entièrement tchèque ou slovaque, à l'exception d'Elisabeth Söderström pour le rôle-titre. Ce pouvait être un problème, car la soprano suédoise, née en 1927, était dans une cinquantaine bien avancée ! On aurait sans doute préféré Gabriela Benacková, présente chez Jílek, mais on doit constater que Söderström garde une étonnante fraîcheur et que la sveltesse de son soprano lyrique contraste idéalement avec le soprano dramatique d'Eva Randová. La voix puissante et corsée de cette dernière donne l'impression d'une mezzo, ce qu'elle était (le rôle demande en théorie presque la même tessiture que celui de Jenufa, mais Kostelnicka est plus souvent dans le grave, alors que Jenufa est presque toujours dans l'aigu); d'ailleurs Eva Randová, l'âge du rôle atteint, est devenue l'aïeule Buryja dans l'enregistrement de Haitink, ce qui est un rôle d'alto, au moins officiellement. La voix de Randová était d'une magnifique homogénéité en 1983 et Södeström évoque presque la jeune fille qu'est Jenufa. Les deux ténors s'apparentent formellement à des ténors de caractère, car le charme leur est refusé, mais sont assez exigeants : Wieslav Ochman et Petr Dvorsky y sont parfaits. Les quatre personnages principaux savent rendre toute la complexité expressive de leurs rôles, ce qui n'est pas peu dire. Les autres rôles sont tous très bien tenus, celui épisodique de Karolka l'étant par Lucia Popp; citons aussi le personnage travesti et encore plus secondaire de Jano, qui évoque un enfant, ce qu'il doit être, et pas une femme.

Il doit être difficile de trouver mieux dans la version de 1908, la meilleure, ce qui ne dispensera pas les passionnés de rechercher Vogel et Jílek, peut-être aussi Gregor. L'exemplaire que j'ai pu consulter, datant de quelques années et dont la couverture avait disparu , contient le livret; je ne peux garantir qu'il en est de même pour cette édition récente, même si c'est probable.
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HALL OF FAMEon September 23, 2005
Mackerras, not an inspired conductor, has devoted himself to Janacek's operas and very honorably set them down in good Decca sound with accomplished casts. So far, so good. But if any of Janacek's stage works deserves a blazing interpretation, this is it. On a live concert recording under Eve Queler on Sony, the orchestra and sonics aren't nearly as good as here, but Leonie Rysanek gives an astounding performance as the grandmother, and that's enough in my mind to push that version past this very well done one.

P.S. 2013 - This review was originally posted in Sept. 2005, the first month I began writing at amazon. I naively thought that a few endorsements from an experienced listener would be enough to help people. That was before I ran into the five-star brigade or the harsh treatment one receives from a hail of Unhelpfuls for going against the wisdom of the Gramophone.

But the Jenufa situation hasn't changed on records - DVDs are a different story, as is now true for every opera. Mackerras remains at the top for want of a really inspired recording. Maybe we'll never get one better than Queler's, which besides Rysanek possesses the great Czech soprano Gabriela Benackova in the title role.
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on April 23, 2009
This 1982 set has established itself firmly as one of the great classics of the catalogue; and it is, indeed, one of the most important and successful (at least in terms of quality) recordings ever made. The work itself is, of course, an indisputable masterpiece, and Mackerras' deep understanding of the musical language, his understanding of how Janacek's rhythms, for example, subtly underlines the dramatic tension and his grasp of the coherence of Janacek's quirky harmonics and melodic phrases and how they are supposed to hang together, is truly admirable. Indeed, one of the most notable assets of this version is the single-mindedness and tautness, both in terms of drama and musical structure; the whole work is conceived of as one long arch building up to an intensely dramatic and stirring climax (that does not signify a lack of attention to the various subtle moods and details, of course). Tempos are generally on the faster side and the overall result is more visceral, more fervent and more dramatically and musically satisfying than any rival performance I've heard.

Söderström's Jenufa is more or less perfect, beautifully and touchingly portrayed and sung with impressive clarity and beauty of tone (and no lack of power when needed). Her understanding of Janacek's musical choices is just as impessive as Mackerras's, impressively navigating the often quirky rhythms yet sustaining the overarching melodic lines and remaining expressively flexible. Randova is intensely terrifying as the menacing but pitiful Kostelnicka - but also able to realize the complexity of this character (in particular Randova's lower register is impessive). Dvorsky is lively and spirited as Steva and Ochman is dignified but still passionate as Laca. The other singers aquit themselves far more than merely `good' as well - in particular, of course, Popp as the nimbly energetic Karolka. The Vienna Philharmonic are, unsurprisingly, excellent, full of energy and warmth.

Sound quality is good, and does in particular capture the voices warmly, but is overall very clear, atmospheric and well balanced. The release also finds room for an excellently quirky performance of the early and discarded ouverture Zarlivosi and both Janacek's original and more understated ending and the alternative (perhaps more familiar) Kovarovic one (I am inclined to be very politically incorrect and voice a mild preference for the more effective Kovarovic ending). In the end, then, this is quite simply and unmissable recording, indeed one of the best recordings of the previous century altogether.
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on September 22, 2012
Janacek: Jenufa is a 1985 Decca Record Company recording under the direction of Sir Charles Mackerras who leads the Wiener Philharmoniker. The booklet contains all the lyrics, well-written music notes and photographs from around the time of the original production. Being a fellow Scandinavian, I am extra proud of Elisabeth Söderström's performance. Absolutely amazing. Highly recommended. 5/5.
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on February 12, 2010
i found this opera marvellous,the history is what we could call verismo, even the author of the play said it so,and that would be the more disturbing, if not for the strong religious feeling,because that saves the ending of being one of the saddest tragedies of all opera.Think, Jenufa lost her child and almost her marriage,but it is by love that she pardons her foster mother and her bridegroom stands by her after all the tragedy.Said that,you need voices and music to show something that dramatic ,and i believe voices are heard, Elisabeth Soderstrom is magnificient,just like Eva Randova, they carry the weight of the drama, but Wieslav Ochman as Lacan is the masculine counterpart,even if his role is smaller. The feeling of drama is pushed by the music,but you find at the end (beggining in Odesli) A MUSIC THAT AFTER ALL THE STRONG EMOTIONS ,it would be an anticlimax,if not for the religious feeling,that makes you cry.What more can you ask from an opera?Excellent recording, magnificient booklet ,a splendid cast in the principal roles, great conductor and orchestra,and last but not least,a very dramatic history, and a music to match it.Janaceck only for this opera is for me in the pantheon of inmortals of the arts.
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