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Frank van Aken
Sabine Hogrefe (14, 21, 24/10)
Julia Sougklakou (19, 27/10, 2/11)
Sarah-Jane Brandon ( 14, 21, 24/10)
Maria Mitsopoulou (19, 27/10, 2/11)
FOREMAN AT THE MILL
THE MAYOR'S WIFE
*On 27/10 and 2/11, the Mayor's role will be performed by baritone Vangelis Maniatis.
With the GNO Orchestra and Chorus
Greek National Opera - Stavros Niarchos Hall
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
20th Century Cycle
Starts at: 20.00 (Sundays at 18.30) |
Ticket prices: 15, 20, 30, 35, 42, 50, 55, 70 €
Students, reduced: 15 €
Limited visibility: 10 €
The Greek National Opera launches the 2018/19 season with Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa, one of the most important masterpieces of the 20th century, that will be presented for the first time ever in Greece, on October 14th, conducted by Lukas Karytinos and directed by Nicola Raab. Jenůfa, the “perfect opera”, as it was recently described by the Guardian, has exceeded the bounds of the modern repertory and has established itself in the world’s greatest opera houses, thanks to its lyricism and emotional honesty, its magnificent music by the great Czech composer Leoš Janáček, and its intensely dramatic and at the same time deeply humane storyline.
The three-act opera Jenůfa – which could be characterized as the Czech response to the Italian movement of verismo – is based on one of Janáček’s texts, which was in turn based upon Gabriela Preissová’s play Její pastorkyňa, [Her stepdaughter, 1890]. It is a story of raw realism in one of the first operas to have used unaltered literary prose. According to the plot, the beautiful Jenůfa is expecting a child from the miller, Števa, and deters his younger, half-brother, Laca, who is in love with her. In order to get back at her, Laca carves her face with a knife. Deprived of her beauty, she is no longer desired by Števa, who gets engaged with the mayor’s daughter instead. Then, Jenůfa’s stepmother, a woman of rigid principles and verger of the village, turns to Laca, who is still in love with Jenůfa. When he refuses to legally acknowledge his brother’s child, the verger kills the new-born, and lies to Jenůfa by telling her that the child was stillborn. A few months later, on Laca and Jenůfa’s wedding day, the baby’s dead body is discovered. The verger confesses her crime and is condemned by everyone but Jenůfa, who forgives her. Despite all that has happened, Laca stays with his beloved one.
Janáček was inspired by the distinct musicality of the Czech language and made use of its special accents when he composed the first opera in which he clearly articulated his personal idiom. While the composer was working on Jenůfa he wrote down the speech melody. He noted, among others: “I was secretly listening to passers-by, reading the expressions on their faces, I wanted to capture every voice vibration …a reflection of which I saw in the melody of the words I was writing down. How many different melodic variations of the same word have I found! […] In the speech melody I sensed the way in which an inner, hidden process was unfolding. Through this process I found sorrow and moments of joy, determination and hesitation.” Through this process Janáček discovered something original and authentic, which would fundamentally influence his compositional style and allow him to shape from then on, his own, totally personal musical language. He made it clear that it was not a naturalistic recording of the prose melody, which he himself had turned into a structural principle, but that through this exercise he could acquire the certainty of managing all means of expression.
”By studying the relationship between accentuation and emotion Janáček achieved unique psychological clarity”, notes the author Milan Kundera, who has delved deeply into the composer’s work.
In Jenůfa, Janáček, follows Dvořák’s example of a more cosmopolitan musical language that remains however typical of his style. Folk-traditional elements are evident in the story’s plot and the characters, but through Janáček’s writing they are also present in a special way in the music. In Jenůfa, there are also some musical themes, which recur at different parts of the action. However, they are not relevant to the Leitmotive technique as we know it from Wagner. In Janáček, musical themes succeed one another or are repeated without the usual variation process. Their recurrence has a rather semiotic function. In contrast to Wagner, in whose music leitmotifs always have the same importance, in Janáček not only are they variable but also ambiguous. The orchestral writing articulates the story and underlines the various situations, through rhythmical patterns and a rich orchestration.
The opera received its premiere with the title The stepdaughter at the National Theatre of Brno on 21 January 1904. It was followed by a presentation in Prague on 26 May 1916 with a libretto adapted by Karel Kovařovic. The work in its “Prague version” was staged on 16 February 1918 at the Vienna Court Opera, in a German translation by Max Brod. For these performances it was renamed as Jenůfa and in this version (in German) it was presented everywhere for decades. The original music version of the opera was restored by Charles Mackerras and John Tyrrell and it was released only in 1996. It is this version that the first-ever national premiere of the opera at the Greek National Opera is based on.
Jenůfa will be directed by the German director Nicola Raab, one of the most prominent opera directors in Europe, who has been internationally acclaimed for the special sensitivity of her readings and her persistence in the dreamlike visualization of the works she directs.
Raab, who has successfully staged many works in Vienna, Copenhagen, Bregenz, Göteborg, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Chicago etc, notes, among others: " the plot of the opera is marked by strong social realism, a clear depiction of society and customs that shape the characters and determine their behaviour. Three generations of women are present on-stage when the curtain opens: grandmother, (step)mother and (step)daugther; (...) the women have to take over, to decide which way to go forward, which way to go at all. And they do so, mainly through the character of Kostelnička, the middle one of the three, the mother figure. Her decisions determine everybody else’s life, even literally so, everybody else’s life and death. (...) A house serves as the original cell of set and storytelling, it overlooks, shelters, hides and ultimately exposes events, secrets, families, women, children, past and present. Almost metaphysical it travels through the acts until it finally dissolves when no longer relevant. (...)The ever present forest surrounding the house as detailed in the original stage directions, serves as a reminder of that spiritual side of human existence. Ιn the end, Jenůfa is about to disappear into it...".
Raab, having as key collaborator the internationally acclaimed set and costume designer George Souglides, proposes a classical reading of the work and looks at the story’s raw realism from a poetic aspect. The set’s basic element is a white house “trapped” in the woods -as described in the work- that serves as a reference to society’s claustrophobic atmosphere and rigid rules, which nobody can escape. As the story unfolds, the house changes forms and in the end, it falls apart. Costumes are influenced by the Moravian countryside, while the production will also feature impressive traditional Czech costumes. Distinguished dancer and choreographer Fotis Nikolaou is the movement coach, and renowned French lighting designer David Debrinay creates the lighting design.
The composer Leoš Janáček, one of the most prominent Czech composers, was born on 3 July 1854 in Hukvaldy, Moravia, which at that time was part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Janáček was deeply engaged in the study of folklore and drew inspiration from his region’s traditional music, as well as from the Slavic music in general. He had thus shaped his own original musical language which is clearly captured in his opera Jenůfa that contributed decisively to the composer’s international recognition. Janáček composed works of all genres: orchestral pieces like the rhapsody Taras Bulba (1918/21) and Sinfonietta (1926), religious music works like Glagolska mše [Glagolitic Mass, 1927), works for piano and chamber music as well as many operas. Standing out among them are Jenůfa, Kat’a Kabanova (1921), Příhody lišky Bystroušky [The Cunning Little Vixen, 1924), Věc Makropulos [The Makropulos affair, 1926) and Z mrtveho domu [From the house of the dead, 1927). The composer died in 1928 in Ostrava of pneumonia.
Jenůfa’s cast comprises distinguished Greek and foreign protagonists. In the title role, the up-and-coming soprano Sarah-Jane Brandon, “one of tomorrow’s great divas”, as she was described by the Independent. Brandon has carved out a remarkable career in big opera houses and festivals, such as the English National Opera, Glyndebourne, the Dresden State Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in Lisbon, the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, the Opéra de Nice and the Teatro Real in Madrid, while her next steps include the Bavarian State Opera, and the Teatro Massimo di Palermo. Shortly before her performances in Athens, Brandon makes her role debut in Jenůfa at the Opéra de Dijon in France. In the second cast, Jenůfa will be sung by GNO’s celebrated protagonist, soprano Maria Mitsopoulou, who after a string of consecutive successes over many years in a wide range of roles (the last one being the exquisite La Traviata in November 2016 at OMMA), approaches a new repertory by interpreting a role of high vocal and acting demands.
The leading role of the Kostelnička (verger) will be performed by the great German soprano Sabine Hogrefe, who was highly acclaimed by both audience and critics at last year’s GNO’s opening production, Strauss’s Elektra, in which she offered a thrilling interpretation of the title role. After her incontestable success as Electra in Athens, she performed the same role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, in the legendary staging of Patrice Chéreau and under the musical direction of MET’s new music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Right after that, she interpreted Gertrud in Lohengrinin Brussels, in a production directed by Olivier Py. Hogrefe is presently making her role debut as Kostelnička at the Opéra de Dijon.
In the second cast, the Kostelnička will be sung by Julia Souglakou, who, after her great success as the Murderess and Lady Macbeth, will now tackle a highly demanding role, both vocally and scenically.
In the role of Laca, the Dutch tenor Frank van Aken, who counts among the most popular ones of his generation and is known to the Athenian audience from his interpretation of Aegisthus in last year’s GNO’s opening production, Elektra, alongside Hogrefe and Agnes Baltsa. He has sung in the Bayreuth and Baden Baden festivals, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Royal Opera House, the Vienna Staatoper and La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera, the Dresden State Opera etc.
GNO’s leading singer, Dimitris Paksoglou, performs the role of Števa. After his success as Cavaradossi in Tosca, Albert Gregor in Věc Makropulos (the Makropulos affair) and Don José in Carmen at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Paksoglou will tackle for the first time the role of Števa in Jenůfa.
Alongside them, younger and outstanding soloists, such as: Ines Zikou, Yanni Yannissis, Dimitris Kassioumis, Margarita Syngeniotou, Artemis Bogri, Barunka Preisinger, Varvara Biza, Miranda Makrynioti.
With the participation of the GNO Chorus under the direction of Agathangelos Georgakatos. The GNO Orchestra will be directed by the celebrated GNO Conductor, Lukas Karytinos.
STAVROS NIARCHOS FOUNDATION
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