Long an acclaimed Jenufa, Karita Mattila performs her first staged Kostelnicka next month at the San Francisco Opera. Sena Jurinac, another great soprano and one of her illustrious predecessors there in the latter role, also first sang Jenufa, and today “Trove Thursday” presents her radiant portrayal of Janacek’s moving heroine opposite the implacable Kostelnicka of Martha Mödl.
When I became opera-crazy, Jurinac was one of the sopranos who first bewitched me. I checked out the Glyndebourne recording of Idomeneo on LP from the local public library and found her Ilia so bewitching that I sought out any other recording of hers I could find. There weren’t all that many, but when I finally borrowed the Erich Leinsdorf Ariadne auf Naxos, her Composer too enthralled me. As I’ve never been much of a fan of either Leonie Rysanek or Roberta Peters, I tended to listen just to the Prologue.
Although years later I came to also admire Irmgard Seefried’s Composer (especially the 1944 version with Maria Reining), Jurinac has remained my ideal. I ordered the Erich Kleiber Der Rosenkavalier on a cheap Richmond LP pressing to hear Jurinac’s Octavian but it didn’t produce a similar revelation partly because I like that opera far less than I do Ariadne.
Once I began to peruse “pirate” catalogs I discovered and pounced on many live performances of roles Jurinac never recorded like Tatyana opposite Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the would-be empress in Herbert von Karajan’s oh-so-heavy L’Incoronazione di Poppea, a heavenly Cio-Cio-San from Covent Garden, Agathe and Lisa in Italian, in addition to this touching Jenufa.
I remember the ecstatic reactions that greeted the release in the late-1980s of her glorious EMI/Références CD that includes a number of sublime studio recordings, along with a previously unknown live 1951 Vier Letzte Lieder with Fritz Busch—it seemed to overnight turn everyone into Jurinac-lovers! One of my favorite “undiscovered” CDs is an EMI collection dedicated to Peter Anders whom I don’t especially care for, but it includes four duets in German from the early 1950s from Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, Otello, and, especially, The Bartered Bride with Jurinac at her absolute prime.
She never sang at the Met after dropping out of the world premiere of Barber’s Vanessa and otherwise Jurinac’s U.S. operatic appearances were few—a single run of Desdemona at the Chicago Lyric in 1963 and three seasons in San Francisco—four roles in 1959 including Ariadne opposite Eileen Farrell and Rita Streich (ah! for a tape of that!), a heavenly Marschallin in 1971 with Christa Ludwig and Helen Donath and finally the fabled 1981 Jenufa in which she collaborated with Elisabeth Söderström.
According to the archives of the Wiener Staatsoper, Jurinac sang in Jenufa there 51 times—32 performances in the title role, 19 times as Kostelnicka—all in Otto Schenk’s 1964 production whose premiere is heard in today’s podcast. She last sang Jenufa in 1974 and took on Kostelnicka just four years later, opposite Gabriela Benacková. Her final performance of Jenufa at the Staatsoper cane just two weeks before her house farewell as the Marschallin in 1982 at age 61, 37 years after her debut.
Janacek: Jenufa (in German)
7 March 1964
Jenufa: Sena Jurinac
Die Küsterin: Martha Mödl
Burya: Elisabeth Höngen
Judge’s wife: Hilde Konetzni
Karolka: Lucia Popp
Laca: Waldemar Kmentt
Steva: Jean Cox
Judge: Ljubomir Pantscheff
Conductor: Jaroslav Krombholc
“Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player above. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.