Royal Opera House, London
Claus Guth’s symbolism-heavy production is at its best when simplest. Asmik Grigorian and Karita Mattila are a strong pairing and conductor Henrik Nánási has the measure of the score
Postponed only days before it was due to open because of last year’s lockdown, Claus Guth’s Royal Opera production of Janáček’s Jenůfa has finally reached the stage some 18 months after originally planned – albeit with a number of cast changes and a different conductor (Henrik Nánási in place of Vladimir Jurowski). The crucial central pairing of Asmik Grigorian in the title role and Karita Mattila as Kostelnička remains, though. The company’s first new Jenůfa in 20 years, this is also the first time that Guth has directed one of Janáček’s operas. His approach, pitching the work into territory somewhere between Strindberg and German expressionism, is likely to polarise opinion.
Gesine Völlm’s costumes suggest the late 19th century, though rural Moravia is replaced by urban anonymity, and Guth’s symbolism is distractingly heavy-handed in the opening acts. The first takes place not in a mill but a workhouse, where labourers shuffle through soul-destroying daily routines overseen by Elena Zilio’s Grandmother Buryjovka, dominatrixy in black bombazine with a riding crop.