In 2007, English National Opera’s Jenůfa scooped two prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards for Best New Opera Production and Outstanding Achievement in Opera, which was presented to the show’s lead, Amanda Roocroft.
The production, and Roocroft, have returned to the London Coliseum for five performances only, offering audiences another chance to see this award-winning show.
Bleakness abounds on the Coliseum stage. There is a starkness about it in Act 1 that depicts an unforgiving, industrial world; a world of hard, cold steel where Jenufa longs to be married to Steva, a lover soon to be conscripted. When he dodges this bullet, the leather-clad biker boy leaves inhibitions behind revealing an unattractive side, signaling the heroine’s decline. An overprotective step-mother and Steva’s half-brother who does not know how to express his feelings all contribute to a tragic tale of a woman whose life falls apart through no fault of her own.
Roocroft’s journey through the opera sees her move from feisty, spirited young woman through confused, abject new mother to acceptance of her new place in life, wearing black on her wedding day. Her award-winning soprano tones are pure and heartfelt, never more so than in the prayer for her child.
While Roocroft is undoubtedly the star of the piece, Michaela Martens, as stepmother Kostelnicka, is a powerful presence. Dark, imposing and ominous, she stalks and rocks her way through the performance, looking every inch the wicked stepmother yet performing every action, however misguided, out of love for Jenůfa.
Tom Randle struts through his performance as Steva with suitable levels of swagger and bravado that drop away when the reality of love is made clear, while Robert Brubaker delivers a brooding angry Laca unable to express himself.
Charles Edwards’s set moves from bleak to symbolically mad for Acts 2 and 3, which are set in a disturbing room of odd angles, peeling wallpaper and large foreboding shadows.
Though, at the end, Jenůfa’s situation is resolved, it is happy in the same way as her carefully tended Rosemary bush; on the surface it appears healthy, but unseen it is riddled with worms.