Santa Fe Opera Season 2019 – Jenufa
All eyes are on Jenůfa as she is the village beauty. Her fiancé sees only a trophy wife. Her rejected suitor sees a chance to avenge the most cutting wrongs in his past. Her righteous stepmother, Kostelnička, sees her own life’s tragedy about to play out again for her child.
Števa and Laca are half-brothers. The younger Laca resents Števa’s good looks, his inherited wealth (due to an “eldest-boy-gets-the-most” tradition), and his success in winning the hand of Jenůfa, whom Laca also loves.
Jenůfa is pregnant with Števa’s child, and he faces a possible draft into the army. Jenůfa is worried; if Števa is drafted, they can’t wed before people realize she’s pregnant. The foreman tells Jenůfa that Števa wasn’t chosen. She is overjoyed by the news, but joy turns to grief when a drunken Števa arrives and Kostelnička, angry, proclaims that Jenůfa and Števa can’t wed until he has stayed sober for an entire year.
Števa leaves after reassuring Jenůfa that he will be faithful to her, despite his roving eye. Jenůfa begs him to love her, but he, unaware of her pregnancy, gives her casual answers and leaves.
Laca, nearly crazed with his passion for Jenůfa, tells her that Števa is interested only in her beauty. They quarrel and Laca cuts her face with his knife.
Months later, the baby is born and Jenůfa is happy and filled with love for the baby. While Jenůfa sleeps, Kostelnička summons Števa and demands that he take responsibility. He answers that no one must know the baby is his, and his love for Jenůfa died when Laca spoiled her beauty.
Fearful that Jenůfa will be left with no one to marry, Kostelnička hastily lies that the baby is dead and is then faced with the necessity of making the lie true.
Jenůfa wakes up and says a prayer for her child’s future. Later, Kostelnička returns and tells her that the baby died while she slept. Laca appears and comforts Jenůfa gently, asking that they spend the rest of their lives together. Seeing the tenderness of the couple, Kostelnička tries to convince herself that she has acted for the best. All seems right on their wedding day, except Kostelnička is a nervous wreck. As her murder of the baby comes to light on this momentous day, Laca reassures Jenůfa, “Nothing in the world matters, as long as we are together.”
About the Art of Jan Preisler
Jenůfa, meaning “Her Stepdaughter” in Czech, is an opera in three acts by Leoš Janáček. It was first performed at the National Theatre on January 21, 1904. Composed between 1896 and 1902, it is among the first operas written in prose.
In researching photographs to pair with Jenůfa, we soon realized the absence of photographs from Czechoslovakia during this time period. The only visual records we could find were paintings. While this was initially disappointing, we have since discovered the work of painter Jan Preisler, whose work dates from the same years as the creation of Jenůfa.