A line of figures silhouetted in the background with their backs to us. A woman in a light-colored slip lies on an iron frame bed in the center front. A man kneels next to her at the head of the bed on the left, and another woman in a black dress stands behind her. There is a row of cages on the right and more mattresses strewn over the floor.
Jenůfa at Lyric Opera Credit: Photo courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera audiences have the luxury of expecting great performances from everyone on the Opera House stage. It’s par for the course; we’re spoiled that way. But once in a while, someone comes along who knocks our socks off. Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, in a stunning Lyric Opera debut as the title character in Jenůfa, is that rare performer: a commanding stage presence and sensitive actor with—and this is the truly rare part—a voice of singular purity and power.

She costars here with no less a talent than Swedish soprano Nina Stemme (thank you Scandinavia!) in a turn-of-the 20th-century Scarlet Letter melodrama with a pulsing, explicitly dramatic score by Czech composer Leoš Janáček that also manages to include Moravian folk music without ever getting cute.    

Through 11/26: Sat 11/18 7:30 PM, Tues 11/21 7 PM, Sun 11/26 2 PM; Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker, 312-827-5600,  lyricopera.org, $41-$339; in Czech with English titles.

Staging by original director Claus Guth and designer Michael Levine is stark and symbolic: a black-and-gray palette in a minimalist set that is as blunt as the straightforward libretto (by Leoš Janáček and Gabriela Preissová); beds and bassinets represent Jenůfa’s (and every woman’s) trajectory; a cage symbolizes the trap of an unwelcome pregnancy in a stifling society; a giant hovering raven connotes disaster. 
Stemme is Jenůfa’s tragically misguided stepmother; tenor Richard Trey Smagur is the cad and weakling who plays and betrays Jenůfa; and tenor Pavel Černoch is the violently jealous brother of the cad and the man with whom Jenůfa ends up. He’ll no doubt prove to be an abusive husband, but this is a story about the triumph of unconditional love and forgiveness so, there you are. The entire cast and the Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Jakub Hrůša (soon to be music director of London’s Royal Opera, Covent Garden), are excellent. As expected.