David Gockley Clearly Saved the Best For Last
David Gockley clearly saved the best for last. The San Francisco Opera’s production of Janacek’s Jenufa was the best thing the SFO put on during Gockley’s ten year tenure as General Director in San Francisco-- and may have been the best overall performance of any opera I have seen anywhere in decades. It was a startling hit.
Many in the audience were left limp by the powerful and moving performance of Karita Matilla as Kostelnicka. Matilla clearly has resurrected her already amazing career with her first-ever stage portrayal of Jenufa’s anguished, domineering and manipulative stepmother. It was truly a star turn by a great star.
Still, Matilla had to share the spotlight with the wonderful Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek for star-of-the-evening honors. This man knows and loves Jenufa and these feelings were transmitted to the SFO Orchestra that played beyond itself in an inspired performance of a great and underappreciated score.
Overall this was an extremely balanced cast even with Matilla’s overwhelming performance. The Jenufa of Malin Bystrom, also taking the role for the first time, was all one could wish for. She was vulnerable and sensitive and displayed a surprisingly large top voice for such a fragile frame. I felt a real sympathy for Jenufa’s plight thanks this terrific young artist’s insightful characterization.
And what a great tenor the SFO found in William Burden from Miami who played Laca, the unloved son who accepts quite a bit to finally win his beloved Jenufa. Burden has a voice of size, clarity and timbre that should lead to a big career. I liked him a lot.
With so many wonderful beautiful performances to take in one almost forgets the real star of the evening—Leos Janacek-- who wrote this masterpiece of moving, vibrant and inventive music along with the libretto. Janacek was a real genius and this opera proves it.
This is one of those operas that get better and better as it goes along. The last scene between Laca and Jenufa where the two pledge everlasting love is one of great beauty and intensity, Wagnerian in its depth and profundity. It was nothing less than a triumph for these two young artists and of course Maestro Belohlavek.
Putting all this wonderful music and performance into a frame of a decent and interesting production directed by Olivier Tambosi, Mr. Gockley has left San Francisco on a high note that all who were lucky enough to have been there are sure to remember for a long, long time. I know I will.