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May 2007 Archives

May 8, 2007

Ecstatic Tears for Jenufa

For an opera that includes kissing cousins, domestic violence resulting in disfigurement, infanticide, madness, and a near stoning, it’s hard to imagine that the Dresser or anyone else would feel ecstatic about Jenufa by Czech composer Leos Janácek, She does and rose to standing ovation with many others on May 5, 2007 for director David Alden’s updated production hosted by Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center.

The performers—Patricia Racette as Jenufa, Catherine Malfitano as Kostelnicka Buryjovka (Jenufa’s stepmother, the deaconess), Raymond Very as Steva Buryja (the father of Jenufa’s child), and Kim Begley as Laca Klemen (Steva’s half brother who is in love with Jenufa), Judith Christin as Grandmother Buryjovka—are masterful in their roles both in singing and acting. These fine artists make it easy to believe they are both eastern Europeans and working-class, melting pot Americans in the 1950s.


Racette brings sun and clouds to the stage as the opera opens. As Jenufa, she fusses over a rosemary plant that symbolically and superstitiously embodies her future. If the plant thrives—happiness, if it withers—misfortune. What she doesn’t know is that Laca is feeding her plant worms, because he doesn’t want her happiness to be with his brother Steva. Emotional light also flashes in the early moments of the opera when the boy Jano (sung exuberantly by Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist graduate Elizabeth Andrews Roberts) comes running to Jenufa to say her teaching has worked and he can read.

The tilted stage lower at the front and higher at the horizon by set designer Charles Edwards in combination with well thought out lighting work together to subliminally produce a feeling of hope that is shaded with darkness. At the beginning of the opera set in the street near a shiny warehouse, a yellow glow suggests a sunny future. After all Steva has not been drafted and he could marry Jenufa, the mother of his unborn child.

Photo Credit: Karin Cooper

In Act II’s bare room of Jenufa’s stepmother, revival lighting designer Jon Clark furnishes the nearly empty space with the shadows of the two women who have been hiding the shame of Jenufa’s child out of wedlock. The Kostelnicka had told the townspeople that Jenufa went to Vienna while, in fact, Jenufa was confined to a back room.

Photo Credit: Karin Cooper

What’s compelling about this production is that individual characters stand out in memorable ways. When Steva, clad in motorcycle leathers, dances with Slavic stomp-slide footwork in the street to drunkenly celebrate that he remains a free man, not a military lackey, the Dresser understand the sexual allure that has drawn Jenufa. When Laca playfully menaces Jenufa with his whirring drill and later cuts up flowers associated with Steva, the Dresser sees how the adolescent behavior of a young man who hasn’t been loved enough by the women who raised him can turn suddenly angry enough to slash the face of the girl he worships. The bitterness of Kostelnicka Buryjovka against her formerly-handsome-now-deceased husband (Steva’s uncle) who used to drink and beat her rages anew when she sees Steva partying in the street. As a straight-backed church elder, she declares without knowing about Jenufa’s situation that Steva needs to be sober for a year before he can marry Jenufa. As always Grandmother Buryjovka, a lumbering old woman still strong enough to run the family mill, steps in to rescue and make excuses for her chosen heir Steva. Grandmother Buryjovka in her grey business attire of skirt and jacket and sensible black oxfords stands on legs that are pillars. Judith Christin portrays Grandmother in a way that says she is both eccentric but powerful.

Continue reading "Ecstatic Tears for Jenufa" »

May 23, 2007

Revolution: WNO Offers Free Opera Simulcasts to American Schools

Revolution, this is how the Dresser describes what Plácido Domingo and the Washington National Opera board of directors are doing this fall when they initiate an entirely free-to-the-public program that will simultaneously broadcast via satellite a live performance of Puccini’s well known opera La Bohème to universities, colleges, and high schools across the United States.

For those who have attended WNO simulcasts of Porgy and Bess in 2005 and Madama Butterfly in 2006 that were broadcast at the Washington Monument grounds in Washington, DC, or gone to select movie theater this past winter around the US to see such operas as The Last Emperor broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera, it is easy to understand the excitement of what these broadcasts to schools around America mean to the future of opera.


On May 23, 2007 at the Kennedy Center during a WNO press conference, the Dresser spoke with educators

involved in this program. Some like Christine Anderson, Associate Professor of Vocal Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, say they will open their auditoriums for the Bohème simulcast not only to their students but also to their nearby communities. Professor Anderson expects to see many first-time operagoers coming from the blue-collar neighborhoods that surround Temple.

So far, there are two high schools and seventeen colleges and universities signed up for these live broadcasts on Sunday, September 23. Domingo, who is not computer savvy because he says he has so many other things to study, says nothing can replace the experience of hearing and seeing opera live, but the simulcast is the next best way.

He and WNO President Kenneth Feinberg, who promoted simulcasts to the schools, are in agreement that everything must be done now to bring young people to the opera. The skinny on the street is that so far, the September 23 event that includes broadcasts to the schools, the Washington Monument grounds, the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, and a theater in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia will cost WNO a half million dollars. Feinberg says this is money worth spending because it is an investment in the future of opera. Of course Feinberg also hopes that this event will bring new patrons to WNO, an opera company that is producing world-class opera performances.


When asked if La Bohème which is being directed by the acclaimed Polish director Mariusz Trelinski will interest the youth of America typically associated with rap music and computers, Domingo said the Trelinski’s updated production situates the characters in much the same way as students experience their lives today and emphasizes the search for identity and connection to the world they must enter.

The Dresser thinks that if Tulane University, an institution struggling like the rest of New Orleans to rebuild what it had before Hurricane Katrina, is participating in the WNO program and it also sent Carolyn Barber-Pierre, Assistant Vice President Director of Student Programs, as a delegate to the WNO news conference that what WNO is doing is as big a deal as putting an astronaut on the moon.

About May 2007

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in May 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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