Bratislava-born Jenis was drawn to opera from a very early age, singing Mozart from the age of 19. He’s since become an Italian opera specialist, having in his repertoire roles like Germont, Don Carlo, Don Giovanni, Figaro, and many others. Renato is a particular favourite. “The role is very full, emotionally. Renato and Riccardo are good friends and good men, but everything changes from white to black. And then in the third act, the aria ‘Eri tu’, it’s so full of feeling. Renato is remembering the past happiness even when he’s in a tragic situation. He’s full of anger, yet he loves Amelia and is torn with different emotions. It is such wonderful music”.
Jenis first sang the part in Germany in a production where rehearsal time was limited, and the soprano changed. It wasn’t easy to develop the role and he was anxious. Yet once he started to sing it, everything came together naturally. He’s now sung the part many times, including Berlin and Vienna. The more he sings it, the more he finds in the character. “It’s like a vision, when you open a door and see a new room, so many interesting things to hear”.
This London production is especially rewarding. He was very impressed when he saw how the ball scene is staged. “It’s a very strong moment”, he says, for it’s the climax of the opera, and extremely dramatic. There’s a huge mirror which reflects the action, intensifying the dramatic impact. “When I first saw it, I was quite surprised at first but now I understand how perfect it is. There is movement everywhere. When Renato stabs Riccardo, those close by are frozen in shock. But elsewhere people are moving, running about, speaking quickly. It’s like two different worlds, happening at the same time”. Those closest to the killing are traumatized, while others move in agitation. “This is one of the best productions”, adds Jenis with enthusiasm.
The conductor is Maurizio Benini, with whom Jenis has worked for many years. “He’s a very good conductor because he knows what we singers need, it’s very natural. The orchestra at the Royal Opera House is one of the best in the world. When they play, it’s like every one of them is a concert master. For us singers, it’s great motivation to hear such good musicians”. Benini is good to work with because he gets on well with the cast and listens to what they feel. “It’s team work”, says Jenis. “It’s so good to have a conductor who is responsive. We can discuss things and find compromises because we respect each other”.
In his forties, Jenis is maturing well. New roles await : he wants to sing Rigoletto and Il Trovatore, for example. He’ll soon be singing a gala concert in Dresden of arias from these operas. “I like complicated characters like these” he says, “because they are interesting”.
“I think acting is as important as singing. Years ago, you could have fat singers who didn’t move much on stage but had wonderful voices and everyone was happy. Now people expect more.” Jenis is interested in the way small details and movement can make a characterization stronger. “I search every role to find moments when I can express things better”. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing position subtly. “I don’t like to be like a machine, doing exactly the same thing every time”, he says. “In life, things change all the time”. This keeps performance fresh and natural. “Even when we’re not singing, there is a connection between singers, which an audience can feel very clearly”.
Good acting isn’t all obvious movement. When Jenis was very young, he watched a Carmen, where the mezzo was in her mid fifties. She sang the Habanera so effectively that she was utterly convincing without having to overact. “She was so strong, she didn’t have to move a lot or “be sexy”, she acted with her face and her voice. I said to myself, “This is Carmen”.
Singing at the Royal Opera House means a lot to Jenis. He first visited when he wife was singing in Kát’a Kabanová. He was greatly impressed. “It looked wonderful and the orchestra played so well. I thought, “what a pleasure it would be to sing here”. To date, he’s sung at Covent Garden several times, in La Bohème, Cosi fan tutte, Madama Butterfly and Faust, the latter with Maestro Bellini and Ramón Vargas, with whom he’ll be creating this Un ballo.
“It’s such a pleasure to work in London at this house”, he says, “Because there is such a high level of professionalism, at all levels. We singers feel that they are all behind us, not just the musicians but all the staff. It’s so well organized and everyone takes responsibility and does their best. So we do our best, too”.
Un ballo in maschera runs from 26th June to 17th July 2009 at the Royal Opera House, London.