This 1953 recording of Jenufa was the first complete recording of any Janácek opera and as such holds great historic interest. Later recordings may have better sound, better orchestras and excellent singers but this recording has ties to early performances of the opera which makes this a very valuable historic document. As was standard practice, this recording uses the re-orchestration by Kovarovic since it was not until Mackerras' 1982 recording that the original version was utilized on a recording.
Stepanka Jelinkovoa is a lyric Jenufa. The voice is not the most youthful on recordings but there is a simplicity of character which is apt for this role. She is wonderfully partnered by Marta Krasova as Kostelnicka. Krasova does not display the overt dramatic interpretation one finds in Astrid Varnay, but she creates a character which is almost sympathetic and is certainly realistic. She is especially moving in the scene where she decides to kill Jenufa's baby. The two tenor roles are in the hands of famed Janácek specialists who have a long history with this work. Beno Blachut has a lovely soft-grained voice, the sound of which helps create the character of the young lover. He really sings the closing pages of act two rather than give us the shouted ranting we usually encounter. Ivo Zidek's more dramatic voice is a perfect foil and he is in excellent voice sustaining the high tessitura with ease. The other soloists are well versed in their roles. The Prague National Theater Chorus and Orchestra are familiar with every nuance of the score and with the soloists create a wonderful ensemble.
Jaroslav Vogel was one of the finest Janácek scholars and had been conducting Jenufa since 1929. He emphasizes the more lyric moments of the score and displays many touching subtle aspects of the score. His tempos are faster than those of later conductors, but they are closer to those indicated by Janácek.
The choice of a recording of the Czech masterpiece is not difficult. The Mackerras recording is very important because it gives Janácek's original orchestration and is superbly cast. Therefore it should be the first choice for most listeners since it also has the best sound of any recorded version. However, I would not like to be without this recording with all of its positive elements and its historical links to Janácek.