Music/Libretto: Leoš Janáček
Director: Tim Albery
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Janáček’s Katya Kabanova returns to Opera North’s repertoire for the winter season after this production premiered in 2007. This three-act opera is based on V. Červinka’s translation of Ostrovsky’s The Storm which exposes the societal attitudes among the Russian’s merchant class.
Set by the Volga River, the opera is about Katya (Stephanie Corley) who is in a loveless marriage to Tichon (Andrew Kennedy) and yearns to have another life. When her husband goes away on business she is under the watchful eye of his domineering mother, Kabanicha (Heather Shipp).
Kabanicha is a widow of a rich merchant who doesn’t hesitate to berate and criticise Katya. Boris (Harold Meers), a nephew of Dikoy (Stephen Richardson) a rich merchant who on the other hand is in love with Katya, and unexpectedly meet one evening. Tichon returns home, and the atmosphere becomes stormy. The sudden guilt leads Katya fully confessing her liaison with Boris and despairingly leads to tragic consequences.
Janáček was inspired to create Katya, the lead character, after his forbidden love for Kamila Stösslová, and the opera emotively explores the moral dilemma of being in love and the society’s expectations and duties of one. Including Katya Kabanova, Janáček composed a number of operas during his later years and his musical ingenuity is shown how creative and original he is in using a variety of unique musical compositions to fit the story of the opera and its characters. Sian Edwards leads the orchestra who deliver this wonderful score which aids the tragic story of Katya and the surrounding community.
Hildegard Bechtler’s sets and costumes certainly set the stage’s mood and ambiance, while Peter Mumford’s creative lighting compliments well especially in the final scenes. As expected, the company of Opera North put on an excellent performance particularly from Corley as Katya. Her emotive and moving performance portraying this troubled character is very memorable.
Katya Kabanova is only a short three-act opera of just over one and a half hours but is jam-packed with storytelling, actions, and emotions. Despite its short length, the production doesn’t feel compromised or abridged – it is rightly paced and projected. It enables one to think about class and society and how attitudes and hierarchies did and continue to have a consequential impact, personally and in relationships, whether over a 100 years ago or today, amid never-ending social changes.
Reviewed on 2nd February 2019 | Image: Jane Hobson