My first opera experience was in the wastelands of the New Theatre in Cardiff where, at the time, WNO were based. I was 21 and I had, up until that point, only come into contact with opera through Bugs Bunny. I don’t really know why I went. But I did and owing to the bus timetable and my essential nerdiness I got there so early I was in time to hear a pre-performance talk. The speaker cradled his G&T and explained that the opera is long and makes no sense. My heart sank. He then told everyone to, at the end, ignore the words, ignore even the action on the stage. Instead we should let the music take us.
The balcony of the New Theatre was mostly empty. The woman I was sitting next to didn’t like Janacek but was a subscriber. She remembered a very poor production she’d seen in the 70s, a mere 28 years before. We were both, for various reasons, outside of our comfort zones. The music started …
Jenufa has a plot. You should read it sometime. And what I was seeing was Katie Mitchell’s interpretation and slowly I was drawn in. By the time the ending arrived, I did not need to be reminded to focus on the music rather than dwell on who was doing what and why. There was no alternative but to be overwhelmed. And after the applause died down and the small audience departed the woman who did not like Janacek announced that she was converted. Twelve years on I can still recall the feelings that music created and how there simply weren’t and aren’t words to describe them. You might as well, as a pop singer once said, dance about architecture.
Below is the finale to Jenufa. This isn’t WNO and you don’t need to know what’s going on. Just listen.