Describing a gritty tale of honour, love and sacrifice, Jenůfa explores the stigma of pregnancy out of wedlock against the backdrop of a small claustrophobic community.
Jenufa is in love with (and pregnant by) her cousin, the feckless mill owner, Steva. The latter is possibly about to be conscripted into the army. Finally this does not happen and he is about to marry Jenufa (to avoid the baby having an illegitimate birth) when Jenufa's stepmother, Kostelnicka, intervenes and says the two cannot marry until Steva has been sober for a year. Steva's stepbrother, Laca, courts Jenufa, at first affectionately. When she rejects him, he slashes her face with a knife. He is at once remorseful and apologises.
It is winter. Kostelnicka has finally discovered that Jenufa is pregnant. She hides Jenufa away in her cottage to have the baby. Steva refuses to marry Jenufa, instead just offering her financial assistance. Laca still wishes to marry Jenufa but is dismayed to hear about the baby. Kostelnicka believes the baby would be better off dead. She gives Jenufa a sleeping draft and while the latter is asleep, she drowns the baby in the frozen river nearby. She returns and tells Jenufa that the baby died of a fever. Jenufa accepts this and sees no other way out but to marry Laca.
It is spring. It is the wedding day of Jenufa and Laca. The ice cover of the river is beginning to thaw and news arrives that the dead body of Jenufa's baby has been discovered. The assembled crowd accuse Jenufa of murder. Kostelnicka is overcome by grief and confesses her guilt and explains that she committed the deed out of concern for Jenufa's future. Jenufa forgives Kostelnicka who is then led away. The faithful Laca says he still wants to marry Jenufa and she accepts.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Czech
About 2 hours + intervals
A Moravian village
The plot depends on a tangled set of village relationships. Before the opera begins, the mill-owner Grandmother Buryja's two sons have both married twice, fathered children, and died. Their wives have also died, except for the Kostelnička (widow of the churchwarden), the younger son's second wife and Jenůfa's stepmother. Custom dictates that only Števa, the elder son's child by his first marriage, will inherit the mill, leaving his half-brother Laca and cousin Jenůfa to earn their livings.
Jenůfa, Laca, and Grandmother Buryja wait for Števa to return home. Jenůfa, in love with Števa and secretly pregnant with his child, worries that he may have been drafted into the army. Laca, in love with Jenůfa, expresses bitterness against his half-brother's favored position at home. As he complains he plays with a knife and, finding it blunt, gives it to the mill foreman to be sharpened.
The foreman informs the family that Števa has not been drafted, to Jenůfa's relief and Laca's increased frustration. The others leave, and Jenůfa waits to greet Števa. He appears with a group of soldiers, drunk and boasting of his prowess with the girls. He calls for music and drags the miserable Jenůfa into dancing with him.
Then Kostelnička steps into this rowdy scene, silences the musicians and, shocked by Števa's behavior, forbids him to marry Jenůfa until he can stay sober for one full year. The soldiers and the family leave Števa and Jenůfa alone, and she begs him to love her, but he, unaware of her pregnancy, gives her casual answers and leaves.
Laca returns, as bitter as ever. He attempts to goad Jenůfa into criticizing Števa, but she takes her lover's side despite everything. Laca rages that Števa would never even look at her if it weren't for her rosy cheeks, then slashes her across the cheek with his knife.
Months later, it is winter. The baby has been born, but Števa has not yet come to visit his child. Jenůfa's face is still disfigured, but she is happy in her love for the baby. While Jenůfa sleeps, the Kostelnička summons Števa and demands that he take responsibility. He answers that while he will provide money in secret, no one must know the baby is his. His love for Jenůfa died when Laca spoiled her beauty, and he is now engaged to marry Karolka, the mayor's pretty daughter.
Števa leaves, and Laca enters. He still doesn't know the truth about the baby, and when the Kostelnička tells him, his first reaction is disgust at the thought of taking Števa's child under his wing. Fearful that Jenůfa will be left with no one to marry, Kostelnička hastily lies that the baby is dead. Laca leaves, and the Kostelnička is faced with the necessity of making the lie true. She wraps the baby in a shawl and leaves the house.
Jenůfa wakes up and says a prayer for her child's future, but the Kostelnička, returning, 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, the Kostelnička tries to convince herself that she has acted for the best.
It is now spring, and Laca and Jenůfa's wedding day. All seems right again, except that the Kostelnička is a nervous wreck. Števa and Karolka visit, and a chorus of village girls sings a wedding song. Just then, screams are heard. The body of the baby has been discovered in the mill-stream under the melting ice. Jenůfa immediately says that the baby is hers, and in her grief appears guilty of the murder. The village is ready to exact immediate justice against Jenůfa, but the Kostelnička calms them and says that the crime is hers. Hearing the whole story, Jenůfa forgives her stepmother. The crowd takes the Kostelnička off to jail. Jenůfa and Laca are left alone. Jenůfa asks Laca to leave her, as she cannot expect him to marry her now. He replies that he will not leave her, and that he wishes to spend the rest of his life with her.
Jenůfa – Soprano (lyric)
Kostelnička Buryjovka's stepdaughter
Laca Klemeň – Tenor (spinto)
Števa's stepbrother, Buryjovka's grandson
Števa Buryja – Tenor (lyric)
Kostelnička Buryjovka – Soprano (spinto)
Grandmother Buryjovka's daughter-in-law
Grandmother Buryjovka – Contralto
Owner of the mill, Laca's grandmother
Stárek – Baritone (dramatic)
The Mill foreman
Mayor – Bass (lyric)
Mayor's wife – Mezzo-soprano
Karolka - Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
The Mayor's daughter
Place of birth: Hukvaldy, Moravia, Czech Republic
Place of death: Ostrava, Czech Republic
Leoš Janáček was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. He was inspired by Moravian and other Slavic folk music to create an original, modern musical style.
Until 1895 he devoted himself mainly to folkloristic research. While his early musical output was influenced by contemporaries such as Antonín Dvořák, his later, mature works incorporate his earlier studies of national folk music in a modern, highly original synthesis, first evident in the opera Jenůfa, which was premiered in 1904 in Brno. The success of Jenůfa (often called the "Moravian national opera") at Prague in 1916 gave Janáček access to the world's great opera stages.
Janáček's later works are his most celebrated. They include operas such as Káťa Kabanová and The Cunning Little Vixen, the Sinfonietta, the Glagolitic Mass, the rhapsody Taras Bulba, two string quartets, and other chamber works. Along with Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, he is considered one of the most important Czech composers.
Love letter to Kamila Stösslová:
“And don’t be ashamed of your nature. It’s so dear, so very dear to me. You are laughter ‘mixed’ from tears. It is that nature - I understand it quite a lot already - which is almost chronically sensitive. You are difficult to understand. What surrounds you is hard - and, Kamilka, heartless. It’s better to avoid hard stones than to fall among them.”
He was fascinated with animal sounds.
Most prominent operas
Leoš Janáček wrote the librettos for most of his operas.
The libretto is written by the composer based on the play Její pastorkyňa by Gabriela Preissová.
3, 3, 3, 3, - 4, 3, 3, 1
timp, perc, bells, harp, strings
Stage: xylophone, 2 horns, bells, strings, zvonky
Jenůfa premiered at the National Theatre, Brno, in 1904.
Aria - Co chvíla (In a moment) (Kostelnička)
Aria – Jenůfa's prayer (Jenůfa)
Duet – Finale (Jenůfa, Laca)