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

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

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):