synopsis Jenůfa

Act I

Jenůfa is waiting for her lover Števa, who is up for military consignment, to return from his examination. If he is drafted, he cannot marry Jenůfa, who is pregnant with his child. His half-brother Laca is in love with Jenůfa, so he hopes that Števa will be enlisted. But Števa has bought himself an exemption, and celebrates this in drunken revelry. Jenůfa’s stepmother, the sacristan, or Kostelnička, disapproves of his irresponsible behaviour and forbids him from marrying Jenůfa until he has been sober for an entire year. Števa goes home to sleep it off, leaving Jenůfa alone with Laca. He ‘accidentally’ slashes her cheek with a knife, to make her unattractive to Števa.

Act II
Abetted by her stepmother, Jenůfa has given birth in secret. Števa refuses to recognize the child as his, nor will he commit to Jenůfa. He has already agreed to marry the mayor’s daughter.
While visiting the Kostelnička, Laca is dismayed to hear that Jenůfa has had a baby. The stepmother invents a story on the spot, telling him that the baby had died. No sooner has she sent Laca away, she grabs the baby and runs outside with it. Jenůfa, who has been drugged, awakens and realizes her baby son is missing. Her stepmother convinces her that she had been delirious with fever, and that in the meantime the child had died.
Laca returns. As soon as he sees Jenůfa, he decides to forgive her and marry her. Jenůfa agrees. Just as the Kostelnička is reassuring herself that she did the right thing, a gust of wind throws open the window, which she takes as a deathly foreboding.

The wedding takes place two months later. Even the mayor, his wife, their daughter and her fiancé Števa attend. The village girls sing a wedding song, but the Kostelnička is visibly tormented by guilt. After Jenůfa and Laca have received the blessing of Jenůfa’s grandmother, it is the sacristan’s turn. Suddenly there is a ruckus outside. The corpse of a baby has been found under the melting ice. Jenůfa recognizes the child’s clothing. The mob, believing her to be the culprit, is intent on stoning her. Števa is incapable of standing up for Jenůfa and claiming the child as his. Laca comes to her defense. Eventually the Kostelnička confesses her crime. She had put the child into a hole in the ice to shield Jenůfa from scandal. Jenůfa forgives her stepmother. The others depart, leaving Jenůfa and Laca behind.

translation: Jonathan Reeder