OP0549. JENUFA (Janácek), recorded 1982, w.Mackerras Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble; Elisabeth Söderström, Wieslav Ochman, Petr Dvorský, Eva Randová, Lucia Popp, etc.; Jealousy - overture (Janacek). (Germany) 2-Decca 414 483, Slipcase Edition, w.207pp. libretto-booklet. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 028941448323
“Despite some fine, recent competition, this 1982 recording is still the JENUFA to own. Charles Mackerras, long a Janácek champion, understands the composer's rhythms and uses them as they should be used - to underline the drama in this remarkably theatrical and beautiful work. Elisabeth Söderstrom's Jenufa remains the essence of this poor girl, the noble victim who finds both redemption and love, and while Eva Randova may not match Leonie Rysanek's intensity as the guilty, misled, catastrophe-causing Kostelnicka, she certainly can terrify and has no trouble with the big second-act climaxes. Peter Dvorsky and Wieslav Ochman shine as the half-brothers, and the rest of the cast performs idiomatically and as a great team. This performance is single-minded in a way that no other has achieved; once you begin listening, your instinct is to play the whole opera through.”
-Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
“It's hard to think of a twentieth century Czech-language opera that has enjoyed more success than Leos Janácek's JENUFA, and there is certainly no shortage of good recordings of it. Among the most exceptional is this effort for Decca led by Charles Mackerras. Elisabeth Söderström is riveting in her portrayal of the small-town girl desperate that the empty-headed Steva, played by Petr Dvorský, will marry her and legitimize their child. Wieslav Ochman is alternatively menacing and touching as Steva's crazed, jealousy-confused rival and Lucia Popp makes a memorable turn in the relatively minor role of Karolka; Mackerras keeps things moving at a breathless pace. Perhaps one might concede that a 130-minute opera doesn't need ‘extras’, but this set has a couple of useful ones. It includes the last scene as revised, rather aggressively, by orchestrator Karel Kovarovic, and ‘Jealousy’, the original overture of JENUFA that Janácek had cast aside in favor of another, but that later became a popular concert work in its own right. Mackerras' JENUFA is an excellent choice for anyone interested in Leos Janácek's greatest operatic masterwork.”
- Uncle Dave Lewis, allmusic.com
"Elisabeth Söderström, the Swedish soprano acclaimed for the plangent richness and intelligence of her singing and for her wide-ranging repertory, including influential portrayals of leading roles in the operas of Janácek, was admired by opera lovers around the world, notably in Sweden and England, where she performed most often, within the field she was revered. With her radiant, creamy voice, thorough musicianship and keen dramatic instincts, she was a model for singers. In roles like the Countess in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO the Marschallin in Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER, Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGEN ONÉGIN and more, she combined insightful acting with nuanced singing and a lovely stage presence to create alluring and memorable performances. An element of Scandinavian reserve in her dramatic and vocal artistry enhanced her work, lending an elusive quality to her portrayals. Reviewing a song recital that Ms Söderström gave at the Frick Collection in New York in 1975, the NEW YORKER critic Andrew Porter perceptively summed up her artistry. Her ‘quick musical intelligence, her vivid and engaging temperament, and a protean voice not exceptionally powerful but well able to compass soubrette mirth and tragic passion have brought her triumphs in a wide variety of roles’.
Anna Elisabeth Söderström made her début as Mozart’s Bastienne when she was just 20 at the Drottningholm Court Theater, on the outskirts of the city, a company she would direct in the mid-1990s. Shortly after her début, she joined the Swedish Royal Opera. She remained a member of that company until her retirement. In her early years she focused on soubrette roles, including Mozart heroines. Soon she was branching out dramatically. Her début at the prestigious Glyndebourne Festival in England came in 1957 as the Composer in Strauss’ ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, and for years she remained a favorite with the festival. Among Strauss singers, she was one of the few to have sung all three lead rôles in DER ROSENKAVALIER: the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie. A milestone in her career came in the 1969-70 season with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, when she sang Mélisande in an acclaimed production of Debussy’s PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE conducted by Pierre Boulez, subsequently recorded. That Sony Classical recording, with George Shirley as Pelléas, is considered by many to be definitive.
Another series of landmark performances and recordings involved the Australian conductor Charles Mackerras, an informed champion of the Janácek operas. Ms Söderström became Mr Mackerras’ soprano of choice for his Decca label recordings of complete Janácek operas, including JENUFA and KATYA KABANOVA, with Ms Söderström singing the title roles, and THE MAKROPULOS CASE, a mysterious, haunting work in which Ms Söderström portrayed, unforgettably, the 300-year-old Emilia Marty.
Among the many contemporary roles she sang were Elisabeth Zimmer in Hans Werner Henze’s ELEGY FOR YOUNG LOVERS and Juliana Bordereau in Dominick Argento’s ASPERN PAPERS for the premiere production in Dallas in 1988. She was also an active song recitalist.
Ms Söderström made her Metropolitan Opera début in 1959 as Susanna in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO. For the next five years, she made regular appearances at the Met, but then drifted mostly to Europe, returning in the 1980s for performances as the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER and the Countess in NOZZE DI FIGARO. For her last Met performances, she came out of retirement, essentially, to sing the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME, a dramatically complex and crucial role with scant vocal demands. She received an enormous ovation."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Nov., 2009