Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Kátya Kabanová @ Opera Holland Park, London

24 July - 7 August 2009

Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park (Photo: Sam Smith)

After their trail-blazing production of Jenufa two years’ ago, Opera Holland Park now turn their attention to Kátya Kabanová, with director Olivia Fuchs returning to direct. With the simplest economy of means Janáček turns Ostrovsky’s The Storm into an opera of searing power, which is exceptionally well sung and brilliantly played at OHP.

Janáček’s orchestral writing is not the easiest to pull off successfully and I’m sure that balance and colour can’t be helped by having to make do with a reduced string section, yet conductor Stuart Stratford conducts a performance full of such wonderful detail, explosive climaxes and phrasing of uncommon poignancy that this performance will go down in the annals as one of OHP’s most memorable. His total grasp of Janáček’s idiom was present in every bar and he was rewarded with superlative playing from the City of London Sinfonia. Janáček’s greatest opera? Very possibly.

After her success with Jenufa you can see why the management wanted to entrust this production of Kat’a to Olivia Fuchs. Within Yannis Thavoris’ evocative designs at one side of the stage he positions the living room of a house, encircled with a wire cage, whilst the rest of space is made to evoke the Volga interspersed with wooden walkways the story unfolded coherently. The only element to jar was the mugging’ of the chorus as they were used at key moments to externalise Kátya’s inner-torment, and it looked awkward within the otherwise conventional operatic framework.

Anne Sophie Duprels, who was such a sensational Jenufa, was singing the title role for the first time and delivered a mesmerising performance, beguilingly sung and quite faultlessly acted her descent into madness was almost too painful to watch. As the mother-in-law from hell Anne Mason did what she could with the role of Kabanicha, whilst Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts was suitably hangdog as her hen-pecked son Tichon. Tom Randle scored a notable success as Boris, thrilling in both his ardour and ringing top notes. Andrew Rees (Kudrjas) and Patricia Orr (Varvara) stood out amongst the rest of the strong cast.

All in all this was a thrilling performance of one of the 20th century’s greatest operas, so it was a shame that tension was broken by the inclusion of an interval after the second act. Kátya is a relatively short opera, so its inclusion seemed all the more unnecessary. But it’s a small gripe in what was otherwise a red-letter day for OHP. Let’s hope they continue to explore Janáček’s operas, The Cunning Little Vixen would work a treat in this woodland setting.

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