Thursday, 11 October 2007

Jenůfa

Is it because I am inescapably a fictional character that I take what happens upon the stage so much to heart? That I so readily confuse actor and role? That the depiction of a matter becomes for me the matter itself? Jenůfa is a disturbing opera, with characters so burdened with guilt and fear that they totter at the edge of their wits and reason, pulling their audience after them.
Jenůfa loves handsome Števa, Števa's brother Laca loves Jenůfa, and Števa loves wine and the attention of the village girls. Overcome by envy and spite, Laca cuts Jenůfa's cheek. Jenůfa carries Števa's child, to the shame of her mother, the powerful sextant (Kostelnička) of the village, who knows Števa will never marry Jenůfa. Mother drugs Jenůfa and kills her baby in the frozen river, then tells Jenůfa the baby died while she was in a fever. Števa marries the mayor's daughter but even when Laca learns Jenůfa gave birth to Števa's child, he still wants to marry her. Their wedding is interrupted when the baby's body is found in the melting river. Horrified, Jenůfa says the infant is hers and Mother admits her guilt to save her daughter from being stoned by the villagers. Steadfast in love, Laca does not leave Jenůfa's side.
And you thought Second Life was dramatic!
Now I simply cannot watch violence being done to a woman and no less can I abide a depiction of such without stirring. At the end of the First Act, I was on my feet with my sword drawn and rushing to the stage when the curtain fell and the audience was plunged into darkness. I was calmed by several gentlemen (who suffered sharp words from me for blocking my advance) and persuaded back to my seat by the ushers, who assured me all would turn out well by the Third Act if I put my sword in their care until I left the theatre. Well, in the Second Act I was on my feet again, though the infanticide was never shown on stage. But I am glad I stayed for the final act, for in spite of the characters' burdensome sins and the unhappiness borne with it, they forgave each other in the end (even if I could not) and after all, Eva Urbanova and Karita Mattila sang beautifully.
I had the same difficulty when I saw Pagliacci long years ago, when I could not contain my repugnance and anger and injured an innocent tenor! I have learned to avoid such performances when I am forewarned of their unpleasant stories.
I do not understand the artistic quest for realism in the theatre. Is its goal to provoke a realistic response from its audience? I have seen quite enough cruelty off the stage that I do not care for its representation upon it, and thereby spoil my evening. I do not consider it an artistic accomplishment to have incited my revulsion. I was chastened by the charity of the characters in the final act, but it was small recompense for having to stand aside while a woman is forced to her knees and cut in the face! Oh it makes me shake!

1 comment:

Enjah said...

I think artists are more capable of entering vividly into theatrically portrayed events than most people, who somehow distance themselves emotionally, or who are disconnected from their imaginations.

In my youth I would see a Tarzan movie and on the walk home, I WAS Tarzan. I LIVE dramas I see.