Leoš Janáček based on the eponymous play by Gabriela Preissová

The rigid morals of a village community put a young woman under pressure: Jenůfa is pregnant by her lover Števa, but he rejects her and retracts his offer of marriage. Once the child is born, Jenůfa’s stepmother, the village sextoness, is worried about the young woman’s reputation as well as her own future. When Laca, another marriage suitor, offers Jenůfa his hand in marriage, the sextoness thinks that life would be better for all of them without the child …

Leoš Janáček’s third opera, with its echoes of folk music from the composer’s native Moravia, was his first real success and was given the sobriquet of »Moravia’s national opera«. Besides this, Janáček’s music has a special quality: while it explores psychological extremes leading to violence and infanticide, and lays bare characters’ emotions in an unsparing manner, no one is judged. His opera even ends with a final act of forgiveness – a moral that seems virtually impossible after the numerous gruesome revelations and admissions of guilt and attests to Janáček’s humanist stance. »Jenůfa« (in Czech »Její pastorkyňa« – »Her Stepdaughter«) has a special relationship with the Staatsoper Unter den Linden: when it premiered in Berlin in 1924, its breakthrough on the German stage was assured. Following »From the House of the Dead», »Katya Kabanova« and the »Glagolitic Mass« in previous seasons, the engagement with Janáček’s chief works now continues with »Jenůfa«.




Jenůfa anxiously awaits to hear whether her lover Števa will be drafted. She urgently hopes that he can conscription because she is expecting his child. She has hidden her pregnancy from everyone and hopes to avoid the shame of an illegitimate child by a quick marriage with Števa. Her grandmother, the old Buryjovka, who has not failed to notice her absentmindedness, calls on her to get to work. Števa’s stepbrother Laca grumbles as usual making venomous comments. The shepherd boy Jano, who is beside himself with joy because Jenůfa taught him to read, provides distraction.

Laca confides in the foreman that he is in love with Jenůfa and thus cannot bear the idea of her marrying Števa. The foreman announces the news that Števa has once again been lucky: he has not been drafted.

Boisterous music announces the arrival of Števa and his fellow merrymakers, all of them drunk. Števa dismisses Jenůfas’s reproaches in his extravagant mood. He boastfully throws his money around and asks her to dance.

Jenůfa’s stepmother, the Kostelnička or village sacristan, calls for an end to the debauchery: she recalls her deceased husband, Števa’s uncle, who also wasted all his money, drank, and beat her. She wants to spare her stepdaughter the same fate and calls for a test: she will only agree to the marriage if Števa promises to stay sober for a year.

Now alone with Števa, Jenůfa begs him in despair to keep the promise he made to the Kostelnička to not risk their chance at marriage. Števa puts aside his macho attitude and reaffirms his love. Laca tries to taunt Jenůfa with a bouquet of flowers that Števa has received from a girl in the village. While struggling over the bouquet, he injures her with his knife on her cheek. Full of remorse, Laca runs off. The foreman cries out after him that he did it in purpose.

Six months later, Jenůfa has borne a child, a small boy whom she also names Števa. To spare her the pain of scandal, the Kostelnička keeps them both hidden in her house. In light of Jenůfa’s situation, the Kostelnička is grudgingly ready to consent to her marriage to Števa, and has summoned him. Before his arrival, she sedates Jenůfa with a sleeping potion.

Števa promises to supports his son financially, but declares to the unbelieving Kostelnička that he cannot marry Jenůfa despite a bad conscience. Due to the scar that she received from Laca’s knife attack and her change in attitude, his love for her has gone. After revealing the news that he is already engaged to Karolka, the daughter of the mayor, he runs off.

Laca surprises the Kostelnička and asks about Jenůfa, whom he still loves and like everyone else thinks is in Vienna. The Kostelnička reveals the truth to him, but tells him that the child died right after birth. Laca is still ready to marry Jenůfa. Relieved, the Kostelnička sends him off with an excuse.

Pondering her situation, she comes to the conclusion that the child stands in the way of Jenůfa’s future. She packs it away and disappears in the cold winter night.

Jenůfa awakes and looks for her little Števa. When the Kostelnička returns, she convinces Jenůfa that she has been asleep for several days with fever and that her son died in the meantime. She tries to console Jenůfa with the prospect of a marriage with Laca.

Laca returns and asks Jenůfa to be his wife. She agrees when she realizes that he means it seriously despite her circumstances. The Kostelnička gives them her blessing and curses Števa. She suddenly collapses with a vision of death.

Two months later, Jenůfa and Laca marry, to the surprise of the guests quite modestly. The mayor and his wife are surprised at the weak, rundown state of the Kostelnička. Laca, at Jenůfa’s wish, has invited Števa and Karolka to reconcile with them. The maid Barena and several village girls sing a song.

The bridal couple accepts the blessings of the old Buryjovka. When the Kostelnička wants to give her blessing, Jano arrives with the news that the corpse of an infant has been found at the river. Jenůfa recognizes her son from the clothing. The enraged crowd accuses Jenůfa of having killed her own child. The Kostelnička intervenes and admits her crime to the horror of all those present. Jenůfa, at first incredulous and furious, wants to give her the chance to atone for her sin. She forgives her. The Kostelnička is then arrested by the judge.

Jenůfa remains behind with Laca. Despite the events, he promises to stand by her.

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