Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

What you should be seeing

September 27, 2007

Karita Mattila and Jorma Silvasti from the Met production of Jenufa
Photo: Beatriz Schiller/Met Opera 2007
Shame on you Los Angeles. Shame on you for leaving far too many empty seats at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday night. An excellent production of a 20th century masterpiece opened there last night, the likes of which you may not see again anytime soon. I'm talking about Janácek’s Jenufa under the musical guidance of company music director James Conlon with an all-star international cast including Karita Mattila, Eva Urbanová, Kim Begley, and Jorma Silvasti. So why all the fuss? This is by no means a new production of the opera. Olivier Tambosi’s stage designs have traveled everywhere form London and Barcelona to the Metropolitan Opera and have even made it to DVD. A nearly identical cast to the one here in LA fronted this very production of Jenufa in New York this spring for what was easily one of the biggest highlights of the entire Met season. Perhaps the strongest thing I can say to recommend this production is how incredibly moving and beautiful it is despite how well-worn its particular grooves are. The basic mill-inspired set and period costumes are set off by a rather blunt concept involving a large rock that protrudes out of the floor in Act I and comes to dominate the entire stage in Act II. While some have argued against this as heavy-handed symbolism, I continue to maintain that it works beautifully throughout the piece and adds a modern edge to the proceedings.

Truth be told, however, the real selling point is the exemplary cast. Mattila has made the title role one of her signatures, and it would be a crime for anyone who cares about operatic singing to miss her here. Begley and Silvasti are both clear, forceful, and spot-on throughout. Probably the biggest change from the recent Met outing is the substitution of the legendary Anja Silja, with Eva Urbanová in the role of Kostelnicka. Urbanová is no Silja, particularly in the acting department, but she is no slouch either. Her beautiful ringing tone lacks Silja's steel, but is surprisingly warm and easily holds its own against Mattila’s standard-setting performance which is saying quite a lot. The fact that Urbanová is also a native speaker makes a big difference as well. LA seems to have fallen head over heels for James Conlon and who can blame us. The orchestra seems to come alive for him with every performance sounding monumental.

Oh, there are some rough edges to be sure, especially here on opening night. Much of the blocking seemed to be planned out by a meth addict, but I attribute this mostly to the need for a little more rehearsal and I think some of the unnecessary bouncing around of the cast will likely smooth out in the coming performances. So, here’s your chance LA. There is greatness in your midst – don’t miss out. There are five more performances left of Jenufa through October 13th and it would appear a criminally large number of tickets are still available.


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