The Buryja family is a troubled one. The two half-brothers, Števa and Laca, are at odds: handsome but irresponsible Števa has inherited most of the family property (notably a valuable mill), along with a favored position in the family’s affections. Laca is further depressed by the hopelessness of his love for Jenůfa , stepdaughter of the Kostelnička, the stern leader of the Moravian town in which they live. Jenůfa loves Števa and is pregnant by him, a fact still hidden from everyone else. Sensing that marriage has little part in Števa’s thoughts and fearing that her lover will be drafted, Jenůfa is on the verge of panic.
ACT I. The Buryja mill. Jenůfa fears the results of the latest draft of the village men: if Števa is called into the army, he will not be able to marry her before her pregnancy becomes obvious. Grandmother Buryja scolds her for absent-mindedness, and Laca teases her remorselessly. Jano, a young shepherd boy whom Jenůfa has been teaching, runs in excited that he can finally read, and Jenůfa promises to bring him a book. The mill Foreman reprimands Laca for treating Jenůfa so heartlessly, provoking a fit of anger from Laca. Jenůfa is ecstatic when the Foreman announces that Števa has not been drafted after all, but Laca is furious at this latest stroke of bad luck.
Števa arrives drunk with the other recruits and is in the mood for dancing, which is abruptly halted by Kostelnička. She withdraws permission for Števa and Jenůfa to marry until Števa proves he can remain sober for an entire year.
Left alone, Jenůfa begs Števa to marry her as soon as possible. Grandmother Buryja interrupts them, and Števa runs off declaring that he will never abandon Jenůfa .
When Laca approaches Jenůfa an argument erupts. In frustration, he pulls out his knife; in the struggle her face is slashed. As Laca escapes, the Foreman calls after him, shouting that Laca cut Jenůfa ’s face on purpose.
ACT II. Kostelnička’s house, five months later. Learning of Jenůfa ’s pregnancy, Kostelnička has hidden Jenůfa in her home and has told the villagers that she has sent her stepdaughter to visit relatives in Vienna. Jenůfa ’s baby is now a week old and Kostelnička is ready to put her plan into effect: she will beg Števa to marry Jenůfa . Frantic with worry for the family’s reputation, she gives Jenůfa a sleeping potion. When Števa arrives, he assures Kostelnička that he cares for Jenůfa but, now that her face is disfigured, he has no intention of marrying her; he has already become engaged to Karolka, the Mayor’s daughter. She pleads at his feet, but he runs away, leaving Kostelnička raging at him and the baby who has brought such shame to the family.
When Laca arrives, she tells him about the baby. Before he can respond to her, Kostelnička blurts out a terrible lie: the baby is dead. Laca is sent away, but promises to return.
Left alone, Kostelnička imagines what the villagers will say when they find out about her family’s disgrace. “I will take this child and give it back to God!” she cries. She wraps the baby in a shawl and runs out into the winter night.
Jenůfa awakens dazed from the sleeping potion. Unable to find the baby, she has a terrifying vision of him falling into a dark, icy place. As she urgently prays, Kostelnička returns, insisting that Jenůfa has slept for two days, during which time her baby died. She tells her that Števa has rejected her and that Laca wants to marry her. Laca returns and begs Jenůfa to accept him. She reluctantly agrees. Kostelnička gives them her blessing and pronounces a violent curse on Števa, but is herself terrified as an icy wind blows through the house.
ACT III. The Buryja mill, two months later. On the day of Jenůfa ’s wedding to Laca, the Buryja family tries to be cheerful. Jenůfa , though, is sad, and Kostelnička is nervous and withdrawn. When the family and guests go to admire Jenůfa ’s trousseau, Laca assures Jenůfa of his love and she thanks him for his kindness and understanding. Laca tells her that he has even forgiven Števa and invited him and Karolka to the wedding. Števa and Karolka enter, the latter chattering brightly while Števa tries to control his discomfort. A group of village girls sing a wedding song to Jenůfa , and the betrothed couple kneels for Grandmother Buryja’s blessing.
Suddenly there is a commotion outside. The shepherd Jano runs in with the news that some village men have found the frozen corpse of a baby. Terrified, Kostelnička tries to stop Jenůfa from going to see the body, but Jenůfa runs away and returns almost immediately, screaming that the child was hers. The shocked villagers turn against her. “Stone her to death!” they shout. Laca tries to protect her against the villagers, but it is Kostelnička who saves her stepdaughter. Declaring that she is the one who destroyed Jenůfa ’s baby, Kostelnička describes how she murdered the child by thrusting it under the river ice. She kneels at Jenůfa ’s feet and to everyone’s surprise Jenůfa goes to her and helps her up. She understands that Kostelnička killed the child out of love for her stepdaughter. Jenůfa begs the villagers to give Kostelnička time to make her own peace with God. The Mayor leads Kostelnička away.
When they are alone Jenůfa tells Laca he should not marry a woman as disgraced as she. Laca, though, remains firm: “Nothing matters if you are with me.”
— Yveta Synek Graff and Robert T. Jones