August 30, 2012 - August 31, 2012, 7pm

Opera Slavica presents a full production of Jenufa (Jeji Pastorkyna) by Leos Janacek.

Opera Slavica, the annual summer training program and opera company dedicated to the study and performance of Slavic repertoire now in its fourth year under the direction of William Hobbs, presents its first production of Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa in two performances. This virtuosic Czech opera, widely considered a 20th Century masterpiece and the work that catapulted Janáček into the international canon, tells a complicated story of raw passion, devastating tragedy and impossible redemption in the simple setting of a Moravian mill town.

Opera Slavica mounts a full staging of Jenůfa with reduced orchestra under the baton of Mr. Hobbs, who has previously served as Assistant Conductor and coach for major opera houses including the Opéra National de Paris, San Francisco Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Seattle Opera. Directed by Kara-Lynn Vaeni and with a set designed by Nick Francone, the opera will be sung in the original Czech with English supertitles projected above the stage. Costumes are to be designed by Liam O’Brien.

The company is honored this year to welcome American dramatic soprano Susan Marie Pierson as special guest artist in her first on-stage portrayal of Kostelnička. She has previously covered the role for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Ms. Pierson, celebrated for her portrayals of Wagner and Strauss heroines in houses throughout North America and Europe, has spent the better part of the last year in recovery after an automobile accident. Her Thursday, August 30 appearance will mark her first performance since the ordeal.

Joining Ms. Pierson for the Thursday night performance are Ashley Becker in the title role, George Ross Somerville as Laca and Christian-Philippe Quilici as Števa. The Friday night cast features Katherine Gunnink as Jenůfa, Meredith Cain-Nielsen as Kostelnička, Cristopher Frisco as Laca and Christopher Eaglin as Števa.

Tickets are $20 if purchased online in advance at or $25 if purchased at the door.


Despite the director of the Prague National Theatre, Karel Kovařovic’s, refusal to perform the work in Prague until 1916, Jenůfa was the work that launched Janáček’s operatic career. Since those Prague performances the opera has enjoyed great popularity and is now firmly established in the repertoire throughout the world. The work marked Janáček’s most intensive consideration of the operatic genre. He spent a huge amount of time over its composition, and revised the work considerably after its first 1904 Brno performances. Although many argue that the opera (particularly Act One) shows traces of a ‘number’ approach (as with Počátek románu) its differs greatly from its predecessors as being a fluid approach to music drama, combined with its verismo-violence Moravian village setting. It follows a tradition in late 19th century Czech literature of social-realism, and the operatic realist tradition born in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, which Janáček so loved. Notwithstanding the fact that Janáček’s opera didn’t meet with half the controversy that Gabriela Preissová’s original play did, the opera’s story coupled with Janáček’s increasing use of violent textures and speech melody still has the power to shock its audience. One proviso of the 1916 Prague premiere was that Kovařovic insisted that he should reorchestrate the score, thus robbing it of the immediacy of its brittle style. It is only recently with the appearance of the Mackerras/Decca recording of the work and the Tyrrell/Mackerras score of the Brno version that the composer’s own final 1908 thoughts on the work can now be performed. This is the version that is currently being adopted in this country and has been recently recorded by Haitink on Warner and Mackerras (again) in English on Chandos, where the opera enjoys many performances. Although the Prague premiere marked a tremendous turn-around in the composer's career, for Janáček’s wife it was when she became fully aware of her husband's infatuation and affair with the Prague Kostelnička, Gabriela Horvátová.


Placing the action of the opera at certain times in the year has proved problematic. Act I has said to have been at 'dusk in September' (WNO 1998) or in the 'Autumn' (The Royal Opera 1993). A more sound suggestion is probably 'summer'. We know that Act II takes place in the dead of winter, due to the frozen river so central to the tragedy of the act. The libretto also suggests that five months have passed since Act I. Act III is set in the spring. Two months have passed and the ice is beginning to melt. These distinctions of time have been variously emphasised or ignored. In the recent Olivier Tambosi production they were indicated by the appearance of a field at the back. Pictured in Act One as a rich corn field ready for harvest, in Act Two as blizzard battered and in Act Three with a ploughed field, pregnant with the hope of spring.

Jenůfa is, probably more than any other opera, a story full of pre- and post-opera details. The discussion of the closing events of the opera below indicate that these have been cause for debate. The events and tensions which have happened before the rise of the curtain on the mill in act one are equally difficult to understand. Janáček himself got in a muddle trying to explain the situation of the Buryja family to his publisher, Universal Edition. When The Royal Opera revived its long-gone production of the opera in 1974, John Tyrrell helpfully provided in his programme notes a clear family tree which is reproduced here.

Organized by: Czech Center New York, Opera Slavica