Saturday, February 17, 2007

Jenůfa is My Valentine

So I had a bit of a "late night" on Valentine's Day, if you catch my meaning, ha ha. In case you don't catch my meaning, what I mean is that I took the after-work Metro North down to NYC to see Jenůfa at the Met Opera. This resulted in a rather "late night," since I didn't get back to New Haven till 2:30 in the morning. If you have a better idea of how to spend Valentine's Day, I'd like to hear it.

Travelling was actually half the fun, since Wednesday was when the slush front hit the seaboard & any transportation hangup would have made me miss the show. But the Metro North was immaculately on time (unlike the Amtrak trains, two of which were 2+ hours delayed already when I left the station) and when the 1 train stopped at 50th Street due to another train's mechanical problems ("This is going to be a while" over the intercom) I still had 20 minutes to book it the 15 icy blocks up Broadway to Lincoln Center, thinking, "I can do this without breaking a sweat . . . don't tell me I don't live in this city, it's like I've never left."

Being in NYC alone on Valentine's Day is pretty much the optimal scenario, since it both romanticizes your status vis-a-vis this unimportant holiday (which under normal conditions wouldn't be worth really even thinking about) while providing you the crowdish anonymity that takes any possible sting out of it.

Jenůfa drew me in largely on account of wanting to hear Karita Mattila in the title role, as well as to finally hear a Janácek opera; and even from the nosebleed seats (especially from the nosebleed seats, maybe) Mattila's voice is an amazing, illuminating thing. There's an ardent, innocent prayer to the Virgin Mary in the second act that glowed especially from within. The entire second act, actually, is uncommonly spellbinding opera—Jenůfa and her stepmother the Kostelnička secluded in a cellar, determining what to do about the illegitimate son Jenůfa has just birthed—Anja Silva as the Kostelnička carries much of this act, and she does so incredibly as well.

Janácek's music is great stuff, and a good reminder of the rich development of romantic music that continued into the 20th century (Jenůfa is from 1904, though Janácek lived until the late 1920s and continued to refine this style). The vocal lines are complex but steeped in Moravian folk song; Janácek's calling card was an attention to melodic and rhythmic speech patterns and an effort to infuse his vocal writing with them. Though it's hard to follow this closely when you don't speak Czech, it gives his music an appreciably natural contour.

And over with plenty of time to get a roast beef deli sandwich and a decaf coffee and head back over to Grand Central for the 12:20 train. Yep, I'd do this every Wednesday if it wasn't for a little thing called "working on Thursday."


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