Letting the music take pride of place

Katya Kabanova, English Touring Opera, Snape; April 17Katya Kabanova is one of Janacek's greatest and most effective works. Written during 1920-21, it is the first fruit of his passion for the married Kamila Stosslova whom he had first met during the summer of 1917.

Katya Kabanova, English Touring Opera, Snape; April 17

Katya Kabanova is one of Janacek's greatest and most effective works. Written during 1920-21, it is the first fruit of his passion for the married Kamila Stosslova whom he had first met during the summer of 1917. Kamila herself seems to have been an unexceptional bourgeoise 25 year old at their first meeting and the exact nature of their relationship remains mysterious but it lasted until the composer's death in 1928 and inspired an extraordinary number of late masterpieces.

The opera is based on Alexander Ostrovsky's The Storm and the tragic heroine Katya, trapped in an unhappy provincial marriage and ultimately crushed by the forces of social conservatism clearly carried a particular resonance for the composer.

It is not in any sense an extravagant opera - it plays for just over two hours and there are few, if any, numbers of significant length. Yet from the very first bar one is immediately aware of a peculiar intensity in the music, generating and sustaining tension into the very last bars. The orchestra quickly found its feet under the secure direction of Michael Rosewell, the strings particularly finding the cutting edge required.


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The cast is a mixture of reactionary bullies and their victims with some contrasting young free-thinkers. Fiona Kimm and Sion Goronwy excelled as Kabanicha and Dikoy respectively, the former coldly authoritative and blind to the suffering she causes. Michael Bracegirdle and Jane Harrington as the young lovers Vanya and Varvara sang with engaging ardour, all the more welcome in contrast to what is happening elsewhere. Caught between the tyrannical Kabanicha and her emasculated husband Tichon, Katya requires a full complement of theatrical and vocal skills. Linda Richardson sang splendidly, particularly in the final act but I could not always persuade myself that here was a woman racked with remorse. Richard Roberts and Colin Judson as the put-upon Boris and Tichon sang their roles reliably and effectively as did the other cast members. The production worked well without being obtrusive and sensibly allowed the music to take pride of place. Whether we needed every word sung as a flow of surtitles is debatable but at least no-one could say they were not informed. Once again English Touring Opera has succeeded in bringing the very best of opera to the regions and I applaud the artistic and administrative achievement.

Gareth Jones

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