Date of Award
Master of Music
Rachel M. Golden
Leslie C. Gay Jr., Jacqueline Avila
Leoš Janáček’s opera Jenůfa, which premiered in 1904, takes place in a secluded Moravian village and details the story of two women, Jenůfa and Kostelnička. They are intertwined through an act of infanticide, family dynamics, and gender expectations. Recognized as the first Czech naturalist dramatist, Gabriela Preissová wrote the Czech realist play, Její pastorkyňa [Her Stepdaughter] (1890), which provided prose for the opera. Tragedies often occur in Jenůfa due to women defying social norms and the problems that arise as a result of their actions. The gender transgressions of Jenůfa and Kostelnička—actions that deviate from gender expectations in Western Europe—provide an unstable picture of nineteenth-century femininity. Yet despite nineteenth-century operatic conventions, as laid out by Catherine Clément, that call for the death of troublesome women characters, both survive the opera. I argue that Jenůfa and Kostelnička’s survival of the opera’s circumstances demonstrates gender subversion, which manifests in the expression of a modern femininity that defies nineteenth-century gender expectations.
Jenůfa and Kostelnička experience their femininity through chaotic situations. Jenůfa deals with an unwed pregnancy and disfiguration at the hands of a jealous lover, while Kostelnička descends into infanticide and madness. They outlive their deviance, and their survival becomes a site for a modern feminist representation.
Additionally, a nationalist atmosphere surrounded both Janáček and Preissová that valued tradition and codified “Czechness.” Nationalist ideology permeated character relationships within Janáček’s opera, Jenůfa. In my analysis, the tumultuous relationship between Kostelnička and Jenůfa alludes to the division between the oppressive Western nations and the Czech lands. Janáček draws attention to aspects of Jenůfa and Kostelnička’s motherhood, marital status, gender, political power, sexuality, and religion. Ultimately, Jenůfa’s message of transfiguration speaks to strengthening modern femininity against struggle and outlasting tribulation. Additionally, as an opera heroine, Jenůfa outlives her expected death called for by nineteenth-century gender expectations, giving a voice and offering hope to future operatic women protagonists.
Whiteman, Megan Lynne, "Mothers Who Live: Gender Subversion and Resilience in Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa. " Master's Thesis, University of Tennessee, 2017.