Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Lyon

There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.

A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio

On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

Falstaff in Genoa

A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.

Traviata in Seattle

One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

[Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera]
17 Mar 2010

Katya Kabanova, London

Anguished, lacerating, irredeemably tragic, David Alden’s new production of Katya Kabanova presents a drama of unalleviated suffering and unremitting bleakness.

Leoš Janačék: Katya Kabanova

Katerina Kabanova: Patricia Racette; Marfa Kabanicha: Susan Bickley; Varvara: Anna Grevelius; Boris Grigoryevich: Stuart Skelton; Vanya Kudrjas: Alfie Boe; Tikhon Ivanich Kabanov: John Graham-Hall; Dikoy: Clive Bayley. Director: David Alden. Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth. English National Opera, London Coliseum. Monday 15th March 2010.

Above: Patricia Racette as Katerina Kabanova

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera

 

Therein, perhaps, lies the one weakness in this powerful and impressive staging. For Janačék’s opera, while admittedly melancholic and menacing, contains contrasting moments of ecstatic joy, matched by melting sonic radiance — moments which resonate with gleams of light and colour, but which were almost wholly subdued by the sinister grey tones of Alden’s vision.

Alden knows this territory well, as his 2006 Jenůfa and more recent Peter Grimes testify. The slanted perspective of the steeply raked set, lend an air of edginess. Sudden and extreme changes of lighting (designed by Adam Silverman) cast monstrous shadows across the immense expanses of the bare, decrepit stage, its distressed emptiness broken only by a lone chair, a single lamp-post. All seems somewhat familiar … And indeed, as an abstract portrait of torment and pain, it serves its purpose well. Yet, the very vastness of this landscape makes it difficult to convey the claustrophobic tension which suffocates the eponymous protagonist. Set in a stifling, provincial community, Katya Kabanova relates the persecution and destruction of a pure heart; Katya battles with her inner demons and struggles against the mean-spirited hypocrisy of the mercantile Russian villagers who judge her. It is the explosive shattering of the chains that bind her soul and body that destroys the village’s self-righteous complacency, and propels Katya to tragedy — Ostrovsky’s play, on which the opera is based, is aptly called ‘The Storm’. But Charles Edward’s design, which suggests the infinite vistas of the Siberian steppes, does not capture the constriction and restriction which is both within and without the tragic heroine.

Katya_Kabanova_002.pngAlfie Boe as Vanya Kudrjas and Anna Grevelius as Varvara

The characterisation of Katya by American soprano, Patricia Racette, making her debut at ENO, was in accord with Alden’s expressionistic conception. Her total isolation was sustained throughout, her psychological and spiritual distance from the other characters and her yearning for escape suggested by her frequent positioning at the furthest edges of the stage. Isolation increasingly became self-absorption; separated by the entire width of the stage, Katya and her lover, Boris (Stuart Skelton), seemed emotionally disconnected — Racette’s Katya is more in love with love than with this weak, pitiful merchant. Confident and sure throughout, Racette was certainly technically in command of the role. Yet, when Katya sings to Varvara in Act 1 of her youthful dreams, her melody should float and soar as easily and freely as the birds she has longed to emulate. Racette’s strong tone, together with a tense, close vibrato, seemed too mature, and lacked the sweetness and air of fragility which might express her essential innocence.

Janačék’s compression of Ostrovsky’s drama does to some extent render the characters one-dimensional. But Alden, and his costume designer, Jon Morrell, take this one step further, and reduce nearly all the other roles to caricatures. A floor-length black cloak hiding a glittering red gown, topped with a threatening, pointed headpiece, Susan Bickley’s Kabanicha is a terrifying figure of authority and intimidate — the stereotypical butt of all mother-in-law jokes, she resembles a vicious Lady Macbeth, dominating and demeaning all. Bickley’s full, true tone fortunately prevented this harridan from sounding as well as looking shrew-like; but, should she really so openly acknowledge her own hypocrisy and sexual avarice, brazenly turning the disapproving gaze of a religious icon to the wall before subjecting the willing Dikoy (Clive Bayley) to some degrading sexual bullying?

Katya_Kabanova_007.pngSusan Bickley as Marfa Kabanicha and John Graham-Hall as Tikhon Ivanich Kabanov

The men, on the whole, were a pitiful and contemptible bunch. Both Boris and Tikhon are weak-willed, self-preserving specimens. Skelton sang lyrically, but his tone was rather lifeless — there was little to suggest that he could inspire Katya to such heights of passion. John Grahan Hall’s Tikhon was a wretched victim of his mother’s oppression, and at times he communicated the pathos of his situation, although like Bayley’s Dikoy, his mannerisms were frequently too exaggerated and over-blown. It was left to Anna Grevelius as Varvara and Alfie Boe as Kudrjas to introduce some convincing humanity into this community of grotesques. The brightness and energy of their singing injected a convincing sense of fun and spirit, Boe’s warm tone in particular conveying the optimism of youth. The healthy, down-to-earth practicality of this pair of lovers presented a stark contrast to the self-destructive, dreamy solipsism of Katya and the directionless ineptitude of Boris.

From the opening bars, where muted lower strings tenderly evoke Katya’s purity of spirit and the frailty of her hopes, as well as the dark depth of the river which will claim both, Mark Wigglesworth draw from his orchestra playing of exceptional clarity and rhythmic vitality. The layered textures of Janačék’s driving motifs were expertly constructed, each melodic pattern contributing to the meaning of the whole. Wigglesworth effectively built up the tension in Act 3, confidently controlling both the rhythmic onslaught and the silences, as the drama lurched to its bitter conclusion.

Katya_Kabanova_015.pngPatricia Racette as Katerina Kabanova, Susan Bickley as Marfa Kabanicha, John Graham-Hall as Tikhon Ivanich Kabanov and Anna Grevelius as Varvara

On stage, in contrast to this detailed musical drama, the semiotics were unashamedly blatant. A vast propaganda poster depicting a Munch-like impression of hell prophesised damnation, its fall to the ground foreshadowing Katya’s own suicidal descent into the waters of the Volga. Why does she confess and leap into the treacherous waters? Katya is a victim not just of her own conscience. In such a soul-destroying, emotionally-deadened world, her innate life-spirit and passion can only find an outlet in religious devotion. And, she is watched and judged not just by God but by the Kabanicha and the village she represents. Thus, Katya is sacrificed to preserve a self-satisfied and repressive regime. However, in Alden’s view, Katya is as alone in death as she has been in life. Having reduced the repressive village to a few grotesque eccentrics, even the latter are distanced at the close, emotionally removed from the human loss which is so profoundly and poignantly conveyed in the music.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):