In May “Jenůfa” by Claus Guth and directed by Juraj Valčuha

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by Opera Charm Team
May 14, 2024

BIOGRAPHY

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INTERVIEW

Against the backdrop of a closed rural community, two women struggle to fulfil themselves, to survive the crushing weight of social obligations and the violence that surrounds them. In the staging by award-winning director Claus Guth, Leoš Janáček’s masterpiece of Slavic realism Jenůfa arrives at the Costanzi from 2 to 9 May in a new production co-produced with the Royal Opera House in London, where it made its debut in 2021, winning the Olivier Award for best opera production. The opera is the third part of the Opera di Roma’s three-year project dedicated to Janáček, inaugurated with Káťa Kabanová in the 2021/2022 season and continued with Da una casa di morti last year. On the podium is Juraj Valčuha, one of the greatest interpreters of the Czech composer’s music, who makes his debut at the Costanzi and who conducted, with the Rome Opera, the Turandot signed Denis Krief at Caracalla in 2015. Cornelia Beskow and Karita Mattila are Jenůfa and Kostelnička respectively. Robert Watson is Števa, while Charles Workman sings Laca. In the part of old Buryjovka is Manuela Custer. Sets are by Michael Levine, costumes by Gesine Völlm, lighting by James Farncombe and video by rocafilm/Roland Horvath. Dramaturgy by Yvonne Gebauer. On stage also the Corps de Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma interpreting the choreography by Teresa Rotemberg.

Claus Guth abandons the realist aesthetic in favour of a symbolic setting. High wooden walls delimit the scene, isolating the characters and defining rural society as a claustrophobic, immobile microcosm. Outside, what Guth defines as “the unknown Other”, a place impossible for the protagonists of the drama to reach. Jenůfa is a story in which honour, love and violence are intertwined, and in which the fates of a young girl and her stepmother are destined to repeat themselves, as in a curse.

Jenůfa is the story of a woman fighting for a freer world,” says the director, “a reality that presents no way out. On stage, there are no doors, no openings. Constant in the work is the noise of the mill wheel, a repetitive rhythm that never changes. Society is this ritual machine that endlessly repeats its movements and destroys everything it encounters. The work shows how enormous social pressure towards conformity can lead to the complete downfall of an outsider, of someone who stands outside the norm”.

One of the most respected and internationally sought-after directors, Claus Guth is renowned for his ability to reinvent the operatic repertoire and for constructing visually impactful stagings that reflect and investigate the psychology of the characters. Twice awarded the Faust Prize, in 2023 he received an OPER! Award as best director. A regular guest of the Salzburg Festival (since directing the world premiere of Luciano Berio’s Cronaca del luogo there in 1999), he has worked for the most prestigious theatres and festivals, including the Wiener Staatsoper, Bayreuth Festival, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opéra National de Paris, Bol’šoj Moscow and MET New York. His successful productions include the Mozart/Da Ponte Trilogy in Salzburg, the complete cycle of Wagner’s Ring for the Hamburg Staatsoper, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow) for La Scala in Milan and the Royal Opera House in London, and Händel’s oratorio Semele at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. Recently, he staged Doppelgänger, from Schubert’s lieder cycle Schwanengesang, a performance performed by the celebrated tenor Jonas Kaufmann.

On the podium steps one of the most highly regarded interpreters of Janáček’s music, Slovak conductor Juraj Valčuha, in his Costanzi debut. Current Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Valčuha has appeared on the podium of prestigious orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, Staatskapelle Dresden, London Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, and Filarmonica della Scala. Very active in France and in Italy, where he was the permanent conductor of the Rai Orchestra and the Teatro San Carlo, in 2018 he was awarded the music critics’ Abbiati Prize.

The role of Jenůfa features Cornelia Beskow, a Swedish soprano appreciated above all for the dramatic depth of her interpretations. Winner of the Lauritz Melchior International Singing Competition in 2017, she began her international career in the role of Elsa in Lohengrin at the Wiener Staatsoper, and then distinguished herself as Jenůfa in a new production by director Keith Warner at the Norwegian Opera in 2022. Next to her, in the role of the sacristan Kostelnička, is the great Karita Mattila, the acknowledged interpreter of Janáček’s Jenůfa, both as the leading lady – her performance at the Royal Opera House in 2001 won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 2004 – and as the stepmother. Beskow and Mattila are making their Costanzi debuts. Tenor Robert Watson, also for the first time on the stage of the Rome Opera House, is Števa Buryja. Winner of the Campbell/Santeramo Prize at the 2015 Opera Index Competition, he was a member of the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 2016 to 2020 and has appeared on the prestigious stages of the MET in New York, the San Diego Opera and the Opéra National De Montpellier. In the part of Laca Klemeň sings Charles Workman, a versatile tenor whose repertoire ranges from belcanto to 20th- and 21st-century operas, who returns to the Rome Opera after playing Boris Grigorijevič in Janáček’s Káťa Kabanová in 2022. Italian mezzo-soprano Manuela Custer is the old Buryjovka. The cast is completed by Sofia Koberidze (Karolka), David Stout (The mill foreman), Lukáš Zeman and Anna Viktorova (The mayor and his wife) and, from the “Fabbrica” Young Artist Program of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Ekaterine Buachidze (The shepherdess), Valentina Gargano (Barena), Mariam Suleiman (Jana).

A masterpiece of early 20th-century musical realism, Jenůfa is the best-known play by Czech composer Leoš Janáček. Written between 1894 and 1903, it is based on Gabriela Preissová’s naturalist drama Její pastorkyňa [Her stepdaughter]. The musical style of Jenůfa is the result of Janáček’s lifelong study of the inflections of the spoken Czech language. The plot revolves around Jenůfa, the adopted daughter of Kostelnička, the sacristan of the church in a small village in Moravian Slovakia. Having become pregnant by her lover Števa, she is scarred by Laca, who is in love with her and jealous of her relationship. Forced into hiding in Kostelnička’s house because of the shame of illegitimate motherhood and rejected by Števa because of the wound she now bears on her face, she is then unjustly accused of infanticide after Kostelnička, unbeknownst to her, kills the child for fear that it might prevent her from marrying Laca, still in love with her and repentant. Upon discovery of the corpse, the stepmother confesses to the crime, but Jenůfa forgives her, accepting the marriage to Laca.

The first performance is scheduled for Thursday 2 May at 8 p.m. and is broadcast live on Radio3 Rai. Repeats on Saturday 4 May (6 pm), Sunday 5 May (4.30 pm), Tuesday 7 May (8 pm), Thursday 9 May (8 pm). Opera Lesson on Saturday 27 April (5 p.m.). Youth Preview on Tuesday 30 April (7 p.m.).

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Alice Lechner

Alice Lechner comes from a music-loving family. Her first encounter with the opera universe was at the tender age of six. The grandeur of the stage productions and costumes, the backstage chatter, and last, but definitely not least, the music left her in awe, beginning with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The overall feeling that opera awakens in anyone who gets a glimpse into this part of artistic eternity, that each and every day passes the test of time, was what drew her to stay and be a part of this world. The Opera House of Brașov became her second home, and the people who worked there were her second family.

Since then, Alice has devoted her spare time to maximising her musical knowledge through instrumental studies, studying both piano and violin for a short time. In the following years, her number one passion stepped out of the limelight and graciously gave way to Law Studies.
Since 2018 she has been studying Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Her passion for opera, even if it is no longer her top professional priority in terms of career, it has most definitely become her priority during her free time. Wanting to experience the best of both worlds and extend her musical horizons, she regularly attends opera performances throughout Romania and abroad.
With OPERA Charm Magazine, Alice aims to nurture her creative side to help it flourish and bloom and to discover, alongside the magazine’s readers, the fascinatingly complex world of opera.

Currently, she is an LL.M. in Business Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Oana Zamfir

Oana Zamfir is a second year MA student at the “George Enescu” National University of Arts, at the Department of Musicology.

She studied violin for 12 years at the “Stefan Luchian” High School of Art in Botosani, later focusing on the theoretical aspects of music. In 2019 she completed her bachelor studies in Musicology as a student of the National Academy of Music “Gheorghe Dima” in Cluj-Napoca. Her research during 2018-2019 brought to the forefront elements of the archaic ritual within works of composers who activated during the communist period, giving her the opportunity to start a research internship at the “Carl von Ossietzky” University in Germany. In this context, she recorded conversations with members of the Sophie Drinker Institute in Bremen, and had access to documents directly from the Myriam Marbé archive.

Since 2019 she has been a teacher of Music Education and Theoretical Music Studies, making full use of interactive methods in the musical training of students and working, at the same time, with the children’s choir founded in the first year of her activity.

Her interests include pursuing a degree in interior design in 2020.

Alexandru Suciu

Alexandru Suciu inherited his passion for art growing up in a family of several generations of musicians. He began his musical studies at the “Augustin Bena” School of Music in Cluj, where he studied piano and guitar. Even though his main study direction was philological, his passion for music prevailed. He began his academical journey at the Faculty of Letters of the “Babeș-Bolyai” University, studying Comparative literature and English. He continued by studying Opera Singing at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy. He also graduated the Musical Education section, followed by Artistic Directing at the Musical Performing Arts department.

His multidisciplinary education opened the doors towards research, which is seen both through his participation in national and international conferences and symposia, such as the Salzburg Easter School PhD-forum, organized by the Salzburg Universität or the Silesian Meeting of Young Scholars, organized by the Institute of English at the University of Silesia, as well as the collaboration with Opera Charm Magazine.

During his student years, he won several prizes, including the Grand Prize at the “Paul Constantinescu” National Musical Interpretation Competition, the Romanian Composers and Musicologists’ Union Prize at the same competition, the First Prize and the Schubert Prize at the “Ada Ulubeanu” Competition.

He further developed his artistic skills by specializing in courses and masterclasses held by personalities such as Vittorio Terranova, Giuseppe Sabbatini, Marian Pop, Ines Salazar, Riccardo Zanellato, Paolo Bosisio, Valentina Farcaș and Manuel Lange in contexts such as the Internationale Sommerakademie für Operngesang Deutschlandsberg, Corso Internazionale di Canto Lirico I.M.C. Licata or the Europäische Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst Montepulciano. Besides his activity on-stage, he currently teaches Opera Singing Didactics, and Pedagogical Practice within the Department for Teacher Education and Training at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy.

Cristina Fieraru

Cristina is a 24 year-old Romanian soprano & a student at the National University of Music Bucharest, where she pursues the MA program in Vocal Performance.

She made her debut in Pamina from “Die Zauberflöte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at only 19 years old at the Bucharest National Opera House, as a member of the Ludovic Spiess Experimental Opera Studio. Over the years she made her debut in roles such as Contessa d’Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro), Mimì & Musetta (La Bohème), Alice Ford (Falstaff), Erste Dame (Die Zauberflöte) in her university’s opera productions.
Her passion and experience extends in the field of choral music, too.

She has been part of our dream team since the fall of 2021. For a good period of time she took care of OPERA Charm’s social media and took you on the monthly journey through the history of opera through our Legends rubric – and a few times through the Theaters around the World rubric.

Her little soul rubric – from 2021 to present – is definitely the Conductors of the Future, where, every month, she gives you the chance to meet a young star of the world of conducting and, of course, to find out what’s the most charming feature of opera in these artists’ views.

BIANCA L. NICA

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