Janáček’s dark and mysterious Jenůfa, one of the great masterpieces of 20th-century opera, returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago for the first time in more than 20 years, November 12 – 26, 2023. Lyric presents this celebrated Czech masterwork with two of opera’s biggest superstars, Lise Davidsen and Nina Stemme, in the leading roles. Their sublime artistry is complemented by Claus Guth’s startling and affecting production, seen in the U.S. for the first time at Lyric, and Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša’s impeccable musical leadership. Jenůfa is a must-see event in Chicago’s fall arts season.
A heart-wrenching score tells a painful story, but there is hope. Janáček’s score, partially inspired by Moravian folk music, is filled with gorgeous, sweeping melodies and an expressive orchestration that makes Jenůfa sound unlike any other opera at Lyric this season. Following the story of a young woman who is pregnant out of wedlock, the opera explores her strained relationship with her family and the burden of shame in a small community. It is a profoundly emotional tale with many moments of shock and sorrow, but at the opera’s end there is a fragile hope for the heroine and her community. She loses everything...and chooses forgiveness.
Jakub Hrůša takes the podium in his U.S. operatic debut. Known for championing music written by Czech composers, Jenůfa is the perfect vehicle for Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša’s highly anticipated U.S. operatic debut. He will become the Music Director of London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, beginning in the 2025/26 Season. He has performed with many of the world’s most esteemed opera houses and orchestras, including the Vienna State Opera, Opéra National de Paris, Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and more.
Two transcendent titans join forces at Lyric. Starring in the title role is Lise Davidsen, who has become one of the most thrilling singers to emerge on the global stage since winning the prestigious Operalia competition in 2015. Famously called "a one-in-a-million voice" by conductor Antonio Pappano, Davidsen makes her Lyric debut in this production, following dazzling debuts in London, Vienna, Paris, Milan, and the Bayreuth Festival. She recently opened the Metropolitan Opera’s new season with a solo recital and has just released the new recording Christmas from Norway on Decca Classics.
Starring alongside Davidsen as the Kostelnička (Jenůfa’s stepmother and the village elder) is Nina Stemme, widely considered one of the leading dramatic sopranos of our time. Stemme was renowned for her portrayal of the title role in Jenůfa for many years before retiring that role and debuting as the Kostelnička at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in 2022. She made her electrifying Lyric debut in the title role of Strauss’s Elektra in the 2018/19 Season. Fun fact: Stemme and Davidsen have played family members before, as the sisters Elektra and Chrysothemis in the Met’s Elektra in 2022.
A cast of singers new to Lyric. Czech tenor Pavel Černoch is Laca, the jealous brother of Jenůfa’s lover, in his Lyric debut. He is particularly acclaimed for his interpretations of the Czech and Slavic repertoire; this season he appears at the Vienna State Opera, Opéra National de Paris, and Hamburg State Opera. Černoch recently sang this role, in a production co-starring Stemme, at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. Richard Trey Smagur sings the role of Jenůfa’s lover Števa in his Lyric debut. He was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2017 and sang this role at Santa Fe Opera in 2019. Last season, Smagur sang the role of the Steersman in the Met’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. Marianne Cornetti also makes her Lyric debut as Grandmother Buryja.
Lyric’s stars of tomorrow complete the cast. Five current members of Lyric’s professional artist-development program, The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, also have roles in Jenůfa. Laureano Quant is the Foreman, Kathryn Henry is Jana, Lindsey Reynolds is Barena, Lucy Baker is Karolka, and Sophia Maekawa is the Maid. Two recent Ryan Opera Center Ensemble alumni also appear: Wayne Tigges is the Mayor and Katherine DeYoung is the Mayor’s Wife.
Daring staging by an innovative production team. In his Lyric debut, daredevil director Claus Guth brings an elegant claustrophobia to Jenůfa, which debuted to thunderous applause at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 2021. The production, led in Chicago by revival director Axel Weidaeur, has been hailed for its deep psychological insights into Janáček’s emotional world. Michael Levine designed the eerie and symbolic sets, while Gesine Völlm designed the similarly allegorical costumes, in her Lyric debut. The masterful lighting is designed by James Farncombe, projected video design is created by rocafilm, and choreography is by Teresa Rotemberg, all in their Lyric debuts.
Dramas, divas, and family feuds. This fall at Lyric, the intense drama of the Czech-language Jenůfa plays in repertory with the lighthearted comedy of the French-language The Daughter of the Regiment, offering audiences a chance to experience the full range of emotions that Lyric performances can stir. With an opulent cast singing gorgeous music, a conductor known for his mastery of his country’s operas, and a profoundly theatrical production, Jenůfa dares its audiences to feel deeply.
Important to know
- Five chances to see Jenůfa: November 12th matinee, 15th matinee, 18th, 21st, and 26th matinee.
- A running time of 3 hours and 5 minutes, including 2 intermissions.
- Sung in Czech, with easy-to-follow English translations projected above the stage.
- Audio description, a guided touch tour of the set, and SoundShirts are available at the November 12 performance. For more information, visit lyricopera.org/accessibility.
- Information and tickets: visit lyricopera.org/jenufa or call 312.827.5600.
Lyric’s 2023/24 Season is sponsored by Invesco QQQ and Julie & Roger Baskes.
Lyric's presentation of Janáček’s Jenůfa is generously made possible by Presenting Sponsors Julie & Roger Baskes with additional support from Production Sponsors David W. Carpenter and Orit K. Carpenter, in loving memory of David W. Carpenter, Richard O. Ryan, and Patricia A. Kenney & Gregory J. O’Leary.
Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks its Official Airline, American Airlines, and acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.
Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud and Music Director Enrique Mazzola, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.
Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.
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For more information, visit lyricopera.org.