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Theatre / Jenufa

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Jenůfa (also known as Her Stepdaughter; Czech: Její pastorkyňa) is a 1904 three-act opera by Leoš Janáček, based on a play Její pastorkyňa by Gabriela Preissová (later novelized by the same author). It is considered to be the composer's first opera to embody his characteristic style and is well-known for its use of Moravian national musical tones and for its grim and controversial libretto. Janáček dedicated the opera to his daughter Olga, who died while he was composing it.

The plot centers around a Big, Screwed-Up Family in a Moravian village. Jenůfa is in love with her irresponsible cousin Števa and is already expecting his child. However, her stepmother Kostelnička (the female sacristan and keeper of the church keys), who used to suffer Domestic Abuse at the hands of her husband and claims Števa is alarmingly similar to his uncle, insists on postponing the wedding until Števa can prove he can remain sober for a year.

Meanwhile, Števa's stepbrother Laca is madly in love with Jenůfa and slashes her face in a jealous rage, after which Števa claims she has lost her beauty and cheerfulness and dumps her for good.

Jenůfa reveals her pregnancy to her stepmother, who hides her in the house to avoid the shame and announces the girl has gone to work in Vienna. When the child is born, Kostelnička implores Števa to marry Jenůfa, but he refuses. Laca, who has been tormented with remorse and constantly inquired after Jenůfa's wellbeing, asks for her hand, but is shocked when he learns she has given birth to Števa's baby. On an impulse, Kostelnička tells him the baby has died and goes on to make it the truth, drowning the child near the mill. Jenufa is told the baby died of natural causes.

Laca and Jenůfa's wedding is held in the early days of spring, when suddenly, right before the ceremony, the baby's body is discovered under melted ice. At first Jenůfa is accused of murder, until Kostelnička confesses the truth and begs for her stepdaughter's forgiveness. Jenůfa prays for her as she is led to prison. The girl is ready to release Laca from his promise, but he tells her he will always stand by her side.

The opera contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Though the libretto makes no mention of it, some productions make Števa physically abusive instead of merely callous towards Jenůfa in the first act.
  • The Alcoholic: Every man carrying the last name of Buryja.
  • All There in the Manual: Many details (such as more information on the Tangled Family Tree, or the fact that Laca has already been in the army and wanted to confess his love for Jenůfa after coming back, only to find her having eyes only for Števa) can be found in the original play and the novelization.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: Kostelnička gets one in the second act.
    Kostelnička (to herself): Who'll save her?
    Laca (opening the door): That's me, aunt.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Buryjas. The old grandmother and Kostelnička who constantly argue, Števa the drunkard and Laca the Yandere (even though the latter is technically not a Buryja). The other men of the family are implied to have fallen victims to alcoholism. Jenůfa is the only normal-tempered person.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jenůfa's baby is dead, revealed to have been killed by her stepmother who is now taken away for trial; but Laca has reformed and Jenůfa has found love and solace with him, and Števa's character finally gets exposed in front of the entire village.
  • Born Lucky: Števa. Handsome, heir to the mill, doted on by his grandmother, the darling of the girls, and he doesn’t get drafted into the army despite having the ideal build and strength for a soldier. Lampshaded by his grandmother and the old miller in the first act.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Poor, poor Jenůfa.
    • Her stepmother suffered it as well thanks to her marriage to Buryja. She used to be a romantic girl madly in love with him before she saw what a scoundrel he was.
  • Cassandra Truth: Every time a girl falls for someone from the Buryja clan, others try to warn her, usually with zero result. The only exception is Karolka, Števa's fiancée, who breaks off the engagement after learning of his child with Jenůfa.
  • Crosscast Role: Jano is a soprano. To avoid costuming difficulties and due to the fact that it makes absolutely no difference to the plot, he is sometimes changed into a girl.
  • Death of a Child: The main tragedy of the second and third acts.
  • Defiled Forever: Jenůfa’s chief fear in the first act is that Števa won’t marry her before her pregnancy shows. Afterwards, Kostelnička is frightened the girl will become a pariah with a child out of wedlock (although later she admits she was thinking of her own reputation rather than her stepdaughter's).
  • Died Happily Ever After: Kostelnička tries to defend herself from her own conscience (see Mercy Kill below) by repeating the boy will go to Heaven; later, it also becomes the only consolation to Jenůfa in her grief.
  • Disappeared Dad: Every major character’s father is either dead or uninterested in the child.
  • The Ditz: The most common portrayal of Karolka, the mayor’s daughter and Števa’s fiancée. She seems not to realize that Števa used to be Jenůfa’s boyfriend and that their presence makes Jenůfa and Kostelnička uneasy, to say the least.
  • Domestic Abuse: Kostelnička was repeatedly beaten by her husband, so often that she had to run away and hide from him.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: When Laca asks Kostelnička for Jenůfa's hand.
    Kostelnička: And a week ago she had a son... Števa's son. (Laca gapes in shock)
  • Easily Forgiven: Jenůfa's initial fury at Kostelnička killing her son dissolves into pity when she sees how destroyed with guilt Kostelnička is over it.
  • Flowers of Romance: Played with.
    • Števa gets a bouquet from one of his admirers (not Jenůfa), but quickly forgets about it.
    • Laca brings Jenůfa flowers from another town for their wedding. However, she is too depressed to really appreciate the gesture (in some productions, she doesn't even take them, in some she takes them quietly after he is worried she won't like them).
  • Good Stepmother: Zig-zagged for all its worth. Kostelnička has brought Jenůfa up like her own daughter, and the latter calls her "mother", and Kostelnička claims she does everything for the girl's sake, however, it's not that simple.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Inverted dramatically with the Buryja men, all of whom have golden hair.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Laca’s whole arc, from a violent Yandere to a kind and patient man. The contrast between him in act one (blaming everything on everyone else) and him in act three (blaming everything on himself, even the things he clearly isn’t responsible for) is clear.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: The old miller in the first act is sure Laca has one somewhere deep down, foreshadowing his Character Development.
  • History Repeats: Kostelnička is afraid Jenůfa's marriage to Števa will be like her own to Tomáš, and she is determined to prevent it no matter what.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Števa is moved to tears after Kostelnička tells him about the baby and begs him to marry Jenůfa, but then he promptly informs her that he is engaged to the mayor’s daughter and won’t get involved in this mess anymore.
  • Illegal Guardian: Laca says that Grandmother Buryja has pocketed his part of the inheritance. Of course, it might not be entirely true, but on the other hand, she does not explicitly deny it.
    • The play gives a bit more detail. Števa is Grandmother's only biological grandson, so convention dictates he will inherit the entire Buryja fortune. Laca and Jenůfa, respectively a step-grandson and a woman, get nothing. Understandably, this makes Laca feel even more like an outsider in his own family.
  • It Runs in the Family: All the Buryja men are irresponsible, alcoholic, sometimes abusive jerks.
  • It's All My Fault: Laca in the final act.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: After two and a half acts of cheerfully taking part in ruining Jenůfa’s life, Števa finally has to face the consequences of his actions in front of the entire village.
  • Kissing Cousins: Števa and Jenůfa. It is not dwelled on in the opera, but Kostelnička brings it up as yet another obstacle for their relationship in the play. Laca, while biologically Števa's half-brother, isn't related to Jenůfa.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: According to Gabriela Preissová, Kostelnička is barren but has always longed for a child of her own, which is one of the reasons for the problems with her sanity.
  • Lonely Together: Laca and Kostelnička.
    Laca: You know how I like to come and talk to you when I’m feeling lonely.
  • Manly Tears: Števa (not kidding) is moved to tears when Kostelnička tells him about his baby.
  • Mercy Kill: How Kostelnička tries to justify the murder in her inner monologue – if the boy lives (she reasons), his birth will make him miserable forever, if he dies now, he goes to Heaven and Jenůfa's reputation is saved.
  • Mood Whiplash: The wedding celebration just begins to get actually merry... when Jano rushes in and cries a baby's body is discovered.
  • Moral Myopia: Grandmother Buryja used to blatantly ignore Laca when he, an orphaned boy, reached out to her for comfort. Now she is angry that he doesn’t treat her as family. They both get better towards the end of the opera, however.
  • Must Make Amends: Laca says he will try to atone for his sin for the rest of his life.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Laca, after realizing he has slashed Jenůfa’s face.
    Laca: What have I done to you? Jenůfka! I have loved you, I have loved you since childhood!
    • An inversion ("My God, what am I about to do?") in Kostelnička’s most famous monologue before the baby’s murder.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: In the beginning, Jenůfa is four months pregnant, and nobody but Števa (whom she has told) is aware of it.
  • Parental Favoritism: A grandparental variation. Grandmother Buryja has always strongly favored Števa (her grandson by blood) over Laca. It is shown to be a major negative influence on both of them: Števa is spoiled rotten, and Laca lashes out his rage at everybody around him.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Brought up in the wedding song. Its text is in the form of a dialogue between a mother and a daughter – the mother says the daughter is too young to marry, while the daughter replies that the mother was just as impatient to marry when she was her age.
  • Secret Test of Character: Laca hopes it's that trope when Kostelnička tells him about the baby. However, it's the truth.
  • Shipper on Deck: Kostelnička actively ships Laca and Jenůfa.
  • Shipping Torpedo: In the first act, Laca and Kostelnička try with all their might to break up Števa and Jenůfa.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Kostelnička attempts to invoke it with Števa and Jenůfa after the baby's birth. Števa refuses point blank and says he'll pay as much as she wants as long as nobody learns the kid is his (since the baby clearly takes after him and it's a small village, it would have been rather difficult).
  • Stealth Insult: Jenůfa towards Števa.
    Jenůfa (to Števa and Laca): Each of you has something good – you, Števa, have your good looks, but Laca has a kind, loving soul.
  • Song of Prayer: In the second act, Jenufa, seized by some unaccountable fear, prays for her baby son to the Mother of God, "Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy". A heartbreaking example, since the audience is aware the baby is at that moment being killed.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: The Buryja men are all dashingly handsome, with golden hair. Števa Jr., Jenůfa’s son, is also said to be the spitting image of his father, even though the poor baby only gets to live for several days.
  • Tangled Family Tree: It is said that Janáček had to explain it to the libretto’s publisher who was lost in trying to figure out who is related to whom; and even now many plot summaries on theatres' websites get mistaken. So (deep breath). Grandmother Buryja was married to Old Buryja, who died. They had two sons. The elder married the widow Klemeň, and they had a son together, Števa. The widow Klemeň already had a son, Laca, from her previous marriage, making Laca and Števa half-brothers. The younger was married first to a woman named Jenůfa who is the titular heroine’s mother, and then to Kostelnička. Jenůfa the main heroine has a child by Števa (also named Števa) and later becomes engaged to Laca.
  • Tenor Boy: Surprisingly for an opera with not one but two leading tenors, averted. Števa might look like your Tenor Boy but he is anything but, being a selfish, amoral drunkard, and Laca, even after his Character Development, is far too conflicted to fit the trope.
  • Unconventional Wedding Dress: Jenůfa wears a simple dark-colored dress for her wedding, because she is mourning her illegitimate son who died a couple of months earlier. His very existence is kept a carefully-guarded secret, so when one of the guests expresses surprise at Jenůfa's choice of clothes, her stepmother claims that in high society, every lady marries in a plain dress.
  • Wrong Guy First: Unfortunately, Jenůfa falls for Števa and sleeps with him before she learns what he really is.