Lise Davidsen Is an Opera Star Worth Traveling For

Lise Davidsen Is an Opera Star Worth Traveling For

But this was a weekend Freud could be proud of. The title character of “Jenufa,” set amid tangled romantic and familial relationships in a Moravian village in the 19th century, is secretly pregnant by a man who refuses to marry her. Her stepmother, a civic figurehead known as the Kostelnicka, desperate to keep the family from disgrace, kills the baby, a crime whose discovery leads to a stunned, sublime gesture of forgiveness.

For this raw, agonized story, Janacek wrote tangy, lush yet sharply angled music, with unsettled rhythms and roiling depths; obsessively repeated motifs, as anxious as the characters; passages of folk-like sweetness; vocal lines modeled on spoken Czech for uncanny naturalness even in lyrical flight and emotional extremity; and radiant climaxes.

Davidsen’s upper voice is her glory: steely in impact but never hard or forced, emanating like focused shafts of sunlight. (In Janacek’s fast, talky music, the middle of her voice didn’t project as clearly, but this is a quibble.)

For a singer of such commanding capacity, she is remarkably beautiful in floating quiet. She played the character with prayerful dignity, reminiscent of Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello”; at the beginning of the third act, when Jenufa starts to think her suffering might finally be behind her, Davidsen registered on her face and in her freshening tone a cautious but real happiness. This is a singer who acts with her voice.

I’ve always thought of Jenufa and the Kostelnicka as antagonists — a spirited youngster facing a repressive older generation — but this performance movingly suggested they are more alike than different: two independent-minded women, both isolated from the village mainstream. And Stemme’s voice remains strong and even; this is not your standard acid-tone Kostelnicka; in soft duet at the start of Act II, she and Davidsen made a combination that evoked “Norma”-like bel canto.

Hrusa supported that sensitivity on the podium. His vision of the score emphasizes its sheer beauty, encouraging smooth lyricism and a kind of musical patience, letting the drama unfold rather than spurring it on. Sometimes this feels like mildness, at the expense of spiky intensity. But that this “Jenufa” is played something like a sustained hymn often heightens the aching tragedy.

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