Jenůfa
  • Leoš Janáček. Opera in three acts. 1903.
  • Libretto by the composer, after the play Její pastorkyňa (Not Her Own Daughter) by Gabriela Preissová.
  • First performance at the National Theatre, Brno, on 21st January 1904.
CHARACTERS
Grandmother Buryjovka, owner of the mill contralto
Laca Klemeň, her grandson tenor
Števa Buryja, his stepbrother tenor
Kostelnička Buryjovka, her daughter-in-law soprano
Jenůfa, her stepdaughter soprano
Mill Foreman baritone
Village Mayor bass
His Wife mezzo-soprano
Karolka, the Mayor’s daughter mezzo-soprano
Maid mezzo-soprano
Barena, servant-girl at the mill soprano
Jano, a shepherd boy soprano
An Old Woman contralto

At Grandmother Buryjovka’s mill, Jenůfa is anxious. She is pregnant by Števa Buryja, the old woman’s grandson, while Laca, jealous of his half-brother Števa, who, as a direct descendant, is favoured by the old woman, is in love with her. Števa may be conscripted, and if he goes this will cause immediate difficulties for Jenůfa. Freed from the threat of conscription, Števa returns, drunk, and his aunt, Jenůfa’s stepmother Kostelnička, forbids his marriage, unless he stays sober for a year. Alone with him, Jenůfa seeks to persuade him to marry her, but he puts her off. Laca overhears this and remonstrates with Jenůfa, accidentally cutting her cheek with his knife, as he tries to kiss her. In the second act, six months later, Jenůfa, hidden in her stepmother’s house, has given birth to her child. Števa comes to the house, and Kostelnička begs him to marry Jenůfa. He claims, however, that, with her scarred cheek, she no longer interests him, and he is now engaged to Karolka, the mayor’s daughter. Laca, calling at the house, is told part of the truth by Kostelnička, who tells him that Jenůfa’s child has died. Fearing now that Laca will not marry Jenůfa, she hurries out with the baby, intending to kill him and leave the body in the frozen river. At home again, she tells Jenůfa that the child has died and persuades her to accept Laca, who has returned, as her husband. Three months later the wedding has been prepared, but, as visitors come to the house, with Števa and Laca now reconciled, the shepherd boy Jano brings the news that a dead child has been found in the river. Kostelnička confesses to the murder, to be forgiven by Jenůfa, who, with Laca’s love, will survive, as her stepmother is taken away.

Jenůfa was rejected by the Prague National Theatre and first staged in Janáček’s home town of Brno, only reaching Prague audiences in 1916. Performances followed in German translation, winning the work and its composer a significant reputation. The second title of the opera, Její pastorkyňa, in its translation as ‘Not Her Own Daughter’, gives a more accurate indication of the central tragic figure of the piece. This is Kostelnička, stepmother and foster-mother of Jenůfa, whose moral stance against the drunken Števa, in an effort to protect Jenůfa, has such terrible consequences for all those concerned. The opera shows Jenůfa, Laca and even Števa growing in maturity, while Kostelnička is forced into lies and infanticide.