Jenůfa fits as naturally in the concert hall as it does on the operatic stage. Janáček stacked his score with folk melodies, repeated rhythms and music that generally delineates character and relationships as well as the libretto. Under the direction of German conductor Patrick Lange, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra offered a passionate performance that straddled the line between elegance and abandon, which entirely suits the piece’s particular nature. The first act built to a tension that crescendoed in the second, when the four central figures set themselves on paths that will irrevocably shape their future. At its most urgent, this is grab-you-by-the-throat music and the NRPO played it as such. Still, the bright and hopeful nature of the redemptive final scene shone through without turning bathetic.

Lise Davidsen
© NPO Radio 4

Unlike Il trovatore, this opera doesn’t require the four greatest singers in the world, but it does benefit from dramatically committed performers well versed in the Slavic idiom. That holds true even in the concert setting. In her first traversal of the title role, Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen proved near-ideal, with ethereally floated B flats and a voice large and penetrating enough to be distinctive in ensembles. She imbued her performance with a steeliness that suggested the survivor at the core of this character. Jenůfa’s prayer was delivered with arresting clarity. 

If Swiss mezzo-soprano Claude Eichenberger didn’t entirely match Davidsen for beauty of tone, she sang respectably and conveyed the stern character of the Kostelnička Burjyovka, Jenůfa’s rigid stepmother. She acted grippingly in the second act when the Kostelnička, consumed by misguided moral rectitude, murders Jenůfa’s illegitimate newborn, thus saving the family from shame – or so she thinks. That Eichenberger and Davidsen seem close in age added poignancy to their relationship, especially when she pleads in vain for Števa to marry Jenůfa and acknowledge their child.

Jenůfa at the Concertgebouw
© NPO Radio 4

Števa’s music suited Pavel Petrov’s pliant tenor, and he exuded the right air of privileged pettiness. British tenor David Butt Philip’s burlier, slightly hooded sound provided the right contrast as Laca, Števa’s brutish half-brother, whose obsessive desire for Jenůfa (and jealousy of Števa) causes him to violently disfigure her. Butt Philip’s Laca was appropriately contrite when receiving Jenůfa’s forgiveness in the concluding duet. The supporting roles were ably handled, with especially sweet singing from Judith Weusten as Jano. The female choral singing in Act 3 was appropriately piquant. 

This ZaterdagMatinee performance was reviewed from the NPO Radio 4 live video stream