DORA AWARD (Toronto), Best Production of the Year (2003)


photos courtesy of Michael Cooper

JENŮFA by Leoš Janáček, based on the play Její pastorkyňa by Gabriela Preissová
Conductor: Richard Bradshaw/David Agler/Martin Turnovský
Geyer/Fields, Forst/Urbanová, Winter/Baker/MacMaster, Dvorsky/Bünten
D. McLane (scenery), M. Pakledinaz (clothes), M. Whitfield/T. C. Hase (lighting)

“Toronto’s fall season was dominated by COC’s new Jenůfa. Pared down yet monumental, the performance inhabited Derek McLane’s massive unit set—stone-gray sloping floor, tilted walls and a huge mill wheel upturned and half buried in the ground. Beyond a few well-judged theatrical coups—like the rear wall suddenly lifting in the final act to show the community advancing to judge Jenůfa—Nicholas Muni’s profound direction stressed narrative clarity; every movement and gesture advanced the personal element of the story in all its complexity. “
Urjo Kareda, OPERA NEWS  (December, 1995)

“In the COC’s stunning new version, Derek McLane’s settings have a massive timelessness to which Michael Whitfield’s lighting adds states of feeling rather than specifics of time and place. It’s only when we see more of Martin Pakledinaz’s subtly apt costumes that we realize that the action has been moved forward three decades to the 1930’s. And the design team, working with inspired director Nicholas Muni, achieves an unforgettable coup de théâter in the final act, when the community converges upon this domestic tragedy. But such bravura moments aside, Muni’s production is distinctive as a marvel of operatic narrative. Everybody and everything on the stage, every gesture and movement, whether by the principals or by the chorus, seems animated by a unique clarity and urgency of storytelling.
Ray Conlogue, The Globe and Mail  (October, 1995)

“With the second production, a new Jenůfa, the company once again reached the high ground it attained with the admired Robert LePage Bartok-Schoenberg double bill. The power of Nicholas Muni’s production came from both the strength of its conception and its extraordinary unity; the moment the music started and the curtain rose on a tableau of Kostelnička, back to the audience, kneeling before a large icon, the shadow of the mill-wheel moving relentlessly round, it was clear that all the elements were in place for totally focused operatic action. An event for the annals.
Peter Dyson, OPERA Magazine  (December, 1995)

Nicholas Muni encouraged in his cast an economy of movement that allowed the raw power of Janáček’s music to pour unimpeded from their mouths.”
William Littler, The Toronto Star  (October, 1995)

“This must-see is a revival of the COC’s 1995 production—a production I missed the first time around. As with Muni’s Pelléas et Mélisande at COC three years ago, this is one of those rare evenings of opera where everything comes together—singing, acting, ensemble, orchestra, sets, lighting, costumes—creating a synergy that sweeps the production along like a river in flood. When this happens, the world’s greatest recordings of the opera become irrelevant; for three hours, all that matters are the human beings on stage before you. (And the spell lasts long past the raising of the house lights.) Apart from drawing excellent performances from all the actors (including smaller roles) Muni’s direction was full of felicitous touches. The most memorable of these came at the opera’s close, as Jenůfa and Laca are about to marry. Laca, who in this production is lame, let’s go of his cane; standing, for the first time in the opera, on his own imperfect feet, he stretches out his hand to Jenůfa. It’s a beautiful gesture, symbolizing not only the strength of the couple’s unromantic, this-is-as-good-as-it-gets love, but also the fact that even though life leaves most of us bereft and in some way crippled, be it emotionally, morally or materially, something noble in the human spirit nevertheless manages to struggle through.”
Tamara Bernstein, (Canadian) National Post (January, 2003)

“The primal roar that concluded the opening night of Janáček’s thrilling, chilling opera Jenůfa was ecstatic proof that our Canadian Opera Company remains at the top of its game. The company last took on the daunting challenges of the Czech composer’s peasant opera in 1995, with great critical success. Thus employing the same director (Nicholas Muni), you could expect at least a similar display of heightened emotions. I was fortunate to be a spectator at the earlier production, but even given the selective bias of memory, this version is even better. It was electrifying, building tension relentlessly until the seismic actions of Act 2 brought a fearful hush to the seated watchers, preceded by multiple intakes of breath as the village Kostelnička killed her stepdaughter’s bastard baby son. The havoc wrought on the audience’s feelings continued until the Act 3 confessional and the final faint glimmer of hope for the girl, Jenůfa.”
Geoff Chapman, Toronto Star (January, 2003)

“There has rarely been a COC production as magnificently designed, sung and directed as this one. Performed in Czech, it is somber, subtle, taut, penetrating and moving. Given an expressionistic staging by Nicholas Muni that accentuates and projects rather than merely stylizing interior states of mind and spirit, this Jenůfa is great art greatly re-envisioned. The COC production is a stunning interpretation of the wounds that bring suffering but finally deep understanding and compassion to human existence. There is nothing that does not fit in Nicholas Muni’s superb production. Pace, rhythm, emotional pressure, choreographed movement, psychological depth, dramatic scale and vocalization are masterly. The distribution of dramatic focus, between Jenůfa and the Kostelnička, is achieved with expertly-gauged facility, and what the story activates in our emotional repertoire, the music sustains with its expressive and often subtle eloquence.”
Keith Garebian, Mississauga Library System Spotlight (January, 2003)

“As this revival proves, it’s one of the COC’s most moving and impressive productions. From the start of director Nicholas Muni’s production, Eva Urbanova’s Kostelnička dominates the action, first as a black-gowned figure sitting with her back to the audience, and then as an impressive singing-actor whose whispers, shrieks and invocations are charged with electricity. Muni brings out the complexities in all four central characters, allowing them sympathy even when their actions are mean-spirited or tyrannical. Jenůfa is pure operatic gold.”
Jon Kaplan, (Toronto) NOW (January, 2003)

“The production of Jenůfa emphasizes opera as theater, with design and direction reflecting a unified vision requiring detailed acting as well as singing. Jenůfa is a thrilling experience musically and dramatically. Under Nicholas Muni’s taut direction, all elements of the production—the grim, symbolic set, the potent contrasts of light and shadow, the highly detailed acting from the entire cast—combine to produce a tremendous emotional impact. A powerful work in an unforgettable production, this Jenůfa is un-missable.
Christopher Hoile, (Toronto) EYE (January, 2003)

“The COC’s production was new in 1995, and feels even newer today. Saturday’s opening-night performance was an amazingly astute interpretation of the piece, by everyone involved. At times it didn’t seem like an interpretation at all, just the thing in itself, raw and complicated, capable of churning your guts with the turn of a hand or the sound of a violin. Nicholas Muni’s stage direction and Richard Bradshaw’s conducting gave an irresistible rhythm and coherence to performances by all the cast, the COC orchestra and the chorus.”
Robert Everett-Green, The Globe and Mail (January, 2003)

“Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa came to Cincinnati Opera—and Ohio—Thursday night at Music Hall. And with it came a new day for the opera. Marking his directorial debut with the opera was artistic director Nicholas Muni. The evening’s triumph was Muni’s because he evangelized locally for Jenůfa and the holy spirit did arrive, with a standing ovation by 2800 listeners.”
– Mary Ellyn Hutton, The Cincinnati Post (July, 1998)

“In his directing debut, Cincinnati Opera artistic director Nicholas Muni created a groundbreaking production that signals a new era of excellence for the company. Some of its polish may be because the production originated with the Canadian Opera Company in 1995. But the incredible power of Thursday’s performance came from Mr. Muni’s conviction and brilliant direction, in perfect unity with a stupendous cast of singing actors and the authoritative musical direction of Prague-born conductor Martin Turnovský.”
Janelle Gelfand, The Cincinnati Enquirer (July, 1998)

“Why delay? Let’s award Cincinnati Opera director Nicholas Muni with what the Romans called simply a “triumph”. For that matter, let’s jumble our imagery, and award him the ears and tail as well. These hosannas were merited by Muni’s staging of Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa, a daring choice for a city rarely challenged by anything out of the oeuvre mainstream. Nothing halfway, nothing cautious about Muni’s concept either; this was Jenůfa with its gruesome infanticide undiluted, with lighting and set choices far removed from the musty drop-and-wing realism of other years.”
Roger Grooms, Everybody’s News (July, 1998)

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