JENUFA • BERLIN STATE OPERA
REVIEW JENUFA: STAR-STUDDED CAST OF SINGERS IMPRESSES IN BERLIN
An ultra-minimalist designer set draws the story of Jenufa out of its claustrophobic village context and distills tragedy into condensed despair. A star-studded cast of singers and a superb orchestra grace Damiano Michieletto’s simple but bold staging of Jenufa at Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter Den Linden, cementing the house’s position at the top of the European opera super league.
Top of the bill this evening is Lithuanian soprano star Asmik Grigorian, who shows class in several major arias with her unique sound and captivating stage presence in the title role.
Grigorian also demonstrates, in this masterpiece by Czech composer Leos Janácek, a phenomenal technique and an amazing talent for shaping her part into a gripping emotional interpretation. No wonder she is one of the world’s most sought-after sopranos right now.
Later in the season, she can be seen in Macbeth at the Salzburg Festival, which GOT TO SEE THIS reviews in August.
The real protagonist of the opera, however, is not Jenufa, but rather the stepmother Kostelnicka, who activates the drama with her rigid, religiously/narcissistic view of morality.
The part is fabulously executed by the German dramatic soprano Evelyn Herlitzius, who in a completely heartbreaking second act convinces herself that the death of Jenufa’s newborn baby will be best for everyone.
The stage is set in an icy cold, abstract universe (Paolo Fantin), surrounded by milky, semi-transparent, led-lit acrylic panels. From above, a gigantic iceberg slowly, gradually descends on the actors until the thaw sets in, the ice melts and the body of Jenufa’s baby emerges.
Jenufa is, in simple terms, about a child born out of wedlock and a village community’s narrow moral concepts that force a tragic resolution of the problem.
It is also a tale of sacrifice and forgiveness, woven into an effective plot, framed by beautiful, beautiful, emotional musical poetry that almost cinematically mirrors the inner lives of the characters. The Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, makes the evening a musical experience of the highest level.
The real villain of the plot, as in another Janácek gem Katja Kabanova, is basically the public opinion that drives the characters to their misdeeds. And in this way, Jenufa becomes a piece of social criticism against intolerance, whether religiously or socially based.
Look yourself in the mirror, says director Michieletto, who also directed the excellent Katja Kabanova at the Copenhagen Opera House this spring.
Six stars for Jenufa and Grigorian. Bravo!
BERLIN TIPS RIGHT NOW
Don’t miss Austrian/German multi-artist Yadegar Asisi’s fabulous 360-degree Pergamon Panorama, which brings the ancient metropolis to life in a gigantic rotunda on Museum Island, a mammoth work that you view from a 10-15 meter high stair tower as sound and image spin around you in a completely immersive 1:1 sense of being there.
Another good art tip is the Neue Nationalgallerie in Mies Van Der Rohe’s beautiful signature building near Potsdamer Platz. The current exhibition includes Gerhardt Richter and a number of sharp works from the Babylonian Weimar Germany of the 1920s and 30s.
After theater time, as always, Borchardt’s in Mitte is open until past midnight, serving oysters, bubbles and, right now, the delicious white asparagus, with a bustling incrowd ambience of VIPs and wannabes.