Jenufa - Synopsis
When the Widow Klemen married the elder son of Grandmother Buryjovka, she gave him control of her mill. This effectively disinherited her son by her first marriage, Laca Klemen. In due course the son of her second marriage, Steva Buryja, inherited the mill; now Laca has to work as a hired laborer at the half-brother’s business. Grandmother Buryjovka, who lives at the mill as housekeeper, had a second son, Tomas, who married Petrona Slomkova, the Kostelnicka (village sacristan). The marriage was unhappy: Tomas squandered her money, was a drunkard and often beat her. Since Tomas’ death, Petrona Slomkova, the Kostelnicka, has cared for Jenufa, Tomas’ daughter. The girl works at the mill, hoping to marry Steva, by whom she is pregnant.
Act I - Autumn
Jano, a shepherd boy, excitedly tells Jenufa that he can now read, thanks to her teaching. Grandmother Buryjovka says that Jenufa has a man’s brain like her stepmother and Jenufa replies that her brain has long since gone to waste. While the mill foreman sharpens Laca’s knife, Laca torments Jenufa about her love for Steva. The foreman announces that Steva has not, after all, been conscripted. Jenufa is overjoyed but Laca is angry.
Steva, drunk, arrives with the villagers who have been recruited. Jenufa reproaches him for his drunkenness, which provokes him into boasting that all the girls are attracted to him. He shows off with his money, demands to hear Jenufa’s favorite song and leads the dancing.
The Kostelnicka arrives and silences the raucous party. She tells Jenufa that Steva is a typical member of the Buryja family and forbids her to marry him for a year, during which time he must remain sober. Laca is delighted and tries to flatter the Kostelnicka, who then leaves. Grandmother Buryjovka sends the musicians away, tells Steva to get some sleep and tries to comfort Jenufa.
Jenufa begs Steva to behave himself so that they can marry before her pregnancy is revealed. Steva reacts angrily and continues boasting of his conquests. Jenufa tells him that she will kill herself if he abandons her. Steva reassures her that he will not let her down and admires her rosy cheeks. Grandmother Buryjovka takes him off to bed.
Laca mocks Jenufa about Steva’s boasting, but she replies that she is proud her lover is attractive to others. Laca takes the knife the foreman has sharpened, saying that he wonders how Steva would feel if the rosy cheeks he so admires were disfigured. Suddenly Laca slashes Jenufa’s face. Horrified at what he has done, he tries to tell her that he has always loved her. In the confusion that follows, the servant girl Barena tries to explain that it was an accident. But the foreman calls for help stating that Laca cut Jenufa deliberately.
Act II - Winter
The Kostelnicka wrestles with her conscience: by killing the baby she will give Jenufa back her life, and God will understand. Jenufa wakes from her drugged sleep and wonders where her stepmother and the baby are. She wishes Steva would come and see their child, and she imagines she can hear the baby crying. She presumes that the Kostelnicka must have taken him to the Buryja mill to show him to everyone. Calmed by this, she offers a prayer to the Virgin Mary. The Kostelnicka returns and Jenufa asks where her son is. The Kostelnicka tells her that she has been delirious for two days and that her son is dead. Jenufa accepts this with resignation, remembering that the Kostelnicka had said this would be for the best. The Kostelnicka tells her of Steva’s visit and his proposed marriage to Karolka, and says she should consider marrying Laca. Laca arrives and asks Jenufa to marry him, dismissing her doubts as to her worthiness. The Kostelnicka blesses them and curses Steva and his planned marriage. But she is frightened when she hears noises: it is as though death was looking into her house.
Act III - Spring
As the guests gather and the girls sing a wedding song to Jenufa. Everyone is preparing to leave for the church and Grandmother Buryjovka gives her blessing to the couple. Voices are heard. Jano, the shepherd boy, tells the mayor that he is wanted: workmen from the brewery sent to cut ice from the stream have found the body of a child. Jenufa realizes that the dead child is hers. The people assume that she killed the baby and cry out that she should be punished. Laca holds them off, but the Kostelnicka silences them with her confession: it was she who killed the child, and she explains why she did it. Karolka is horrified to learn that this was Steva’s child. Laca blames himself, seeing this tragic event as a consequence of his having scarred Jenufa’s face. She, however, begins to understand the motives behind the Kostelnicka’s terrible deed. When the Kostelnicka asks Jenufa’s forgiveness, she grants it and the Kostelnicka is led off to stand trial.
Alone with Laca, Jenufa tells him he must leave her: he cannot possibly want to marry her in these circumstances. She says he should remember that she forgave him long ago for cutting her face, an act provoked by his love. Laca pleads with her: the scorn of those around them has no meaning if they can offer each other comfort. Jenufa gladly accepts his love.