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Jenufa review at West Horsley Place – ‘life-affirming’

Natalya Romaniw in Grange Park Opera's Jenufa. Photo: Robert Workman Natalya Romaniw in Grange Park Opera's Jenufa. Photo: Robert Workman
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Katie Mitchell’s production of Janacek’s drama of Czech village life was launched by Welsh National Opera in 1998, when the company was performing in Cardiff’s relatively small New Theatre. On its belated transfer to the Grange Park Stage the result looks cramped, while Robin Tebbutt’s revival does not consistently offer the moment-by-moment precision one associates with Mitchell’s best work.

That said, the whole show rises to greatness in the searing final act due to exceptional individual performances in the main roles plus a growing sense of overall conviction.

There are four fine artists on stage who ensure that it does so. Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw offers a complete portrayal of Janacek’s heroine, who survives the worst life can throw at her; her intense lyric instrument rises confidently to all demands. As her stepmother the Kostelnicka, Susan Bullock follows the character’s painful journey from a terrible crime to its inevitable punishment, and one feels for her every single step of the way.

As the two half-brothers in Jenufa’s life, Nicky Spence perfectly realises the weak, cocksure Steva, whose empty promises lead to disaster — not least for himself: Spence’s tenor gleams brilliantly as he hits his hubristic heights. As the awkward, maybe autistic Laca, Peter Hoare’s fine musicianship and keen acting skills help him create a character for whom one feels compassion, despite his flaws.

Secondary roles include strong contributions from Anne-Marie Owens as the concerned family matriarch Grandmother Burya, Harry Thatcher’s interventionist mill foreman, and Jihoon Kim’s out-of-his-depth Mayor.

William Lacey’s conducting could do with more punch, and there are moments when the BBC Concert Orchestra and the other forces are out of synch; but the show’s best elements come together to reassert the life-affirming qualities of Janacek’s moving humanistic vision.

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Uneven but worthwhile revival of Katie Mitchell’s production enlivened by shining performances