Sunday brings another important premiere to Chicago Lyric–Janacek’s Jenufa–which Chris’s Cache previews with three important daughter-stepmother pairs, each in a different language: Gré Brouwenstijn/Lidy Van der Veen in French; Josephine Barstow/Pauline Tinsley in English; and Karita Mattila/Hildegard Behrens in the original Czech.

My first Jenufa was the now-legendary 1988 Opera Orchestra of New York concert performance with Gabriela Benackova and Leonie Rysanek. The entire performance, including the lengthy ovation that followed their riveting second act, can be heard on a two-CD set from BIS.

Of course, I heard the two sopranos again at the Met when Ben Heppner joined them as Laca.

Following Benackova, Mattila became the world’s Jenufa of choice and I was lucky to hear her three times in the role: twice at the Met opposite first Deborah Polaski, then Anja Silja as well as in a Paris production with Rosalind Plowright. As I was hospitalized during the fall of 2016, I had to miss Mattila’s Met Kostelnicka although I’ve been told the Jenufa was a most unworthy partner.

Behrens performed Kat’a Kabanova early in her career and eventually Emilia Marty in The Makropolos Case. I believe her Salzburg Kostelnicka here (led by the unexpected John Eliot Gardiner) may have been her final new role. David Kuebler, her Laca, is married to Angela Denoke who has sung both leading female roles in this opera, as well as other Janacek roles.

A rare visitor to the US, Brouwenstijn appeared only once at Lyric: as Jenufa which she performed in 1959 opposite Australian soprano Sylvia Fisher who excelled in Janacek bad-stepmother roles in the United Kingdom. Jenufa’s second Lyric production came in 2000 with Patricia Racette and Kathryn Harries. For those who unable to make it to the Windy City’s third to see Lise Davidsen, her initial encounter with the title role was televised from the Concertgebouw in 2021.

Nina Stemme, who will play Kostelnicka opposite Davidsen, had previously been Jenufa in 2007 with Eva Marton.

Like other Jenufas, Barstow, too, moved onto the stepmother role including a 1995 Opera North production in which Tinsley was Grandmother Buryja.

Another celebrated example of the Jenufa-to-Kostelnicka transition can be heard here in an electric Act II featuring Benackova and Sena Jurinac, who earlier sang the title role opposite Martha Mödl.

Janacek: Jenufa in French

Jenufa: Gré Brouwenstijn
Kostelnicka: Lidy Van der Veen
Grandmother Buryja: Denise Scharley
Laca: Frans Vroons
Steva: Joseph Peyron
Orchestre lyrique de la RTF

Direction Charles Bruck
French Radio
27 June 1952

Janacek: Jenufa in English

Jenufa: Josephine Barstow
Kostelnicka: Pauline Tinsley
Grandmother Buryja: Menai Davies
Laca: Allan Cathcart
Steva: Gregory Dempsey

Conductor: Richard Armstrong
Welsh National Opera
6 November 1975
In-house recording

Janacek: Jenufa in Czech

Jenufa: Karita Mattila
Kostelnicka: Hildegard Behrens
Grandmother Buryja: June Card
Laca: David Kuebler
Steva: Jerry Hadley

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner
Salzburg Festival
23 July 2001

Each Jenufa can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a box with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

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