Katya Kabanova (Opera North)
March 21 2019
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Opera North spins Katya’s grim story into gold
The bare bones of Janacek’s opera Katya Kabanova make it sound very grim and place it a universe away from operas which dazzle the eye with gorgeous sets and costumes and beguile the ear with tuneful arias and thrilling choruses. It’s all long black coats in Katya – and you won’t hear anyone whistling a tune on the way out afterwards. What we have is a claustrophobic village in rural Russia, a weak husband, a mother-in-law from hell, adultery and a suicide.
So why do audiences pay good money to see this Opera North production and why do they cheer it to the rafters? Well, Janacek creates one of the great operatic roles in Katya herself: her fragility and dignity as well as the tragedy of her breakdown and suicide are captured with penetrating insight. And Kabanicha, the mother-in-law, is a terrifyingly convincing portrayal of domestic power and manipulation.
Stephanie Corley is impressive in the title role and is well-matched by Harold Meers as her lover Boris, a weak man whose passion for Katya is his only strength. Heather Shipp is a truly formidable Kabanicha, complaining that her son Tichon (Andrew Kennedy) dares to love his wife more than her and generally assuming that her word is law. Her coldness at the end, merely thanking her neighbours for their kindness after Katya’s corpse is found is shocking in its stark abruptness.
Sets and costumes are darkly atmospheric, both essential ingredients of the compelling narrative. However, apart from the strong individual performances, two things really stand out in this Opera North revival. One is something you can’t always take for granted in opera productions: really superb, subtly detailed acting from the entire cast. The other is magnificent playing by the company’s orchestra, under the perceptive direction of Sian Edwards, revealing Janacek’s sound world in all its strange uniqueness.
Kabanicha Heather Shipp
Tichon Andrew Kennedy
Katya Kabanova Stephanie Corley
Varvara Katie Bray
Glasha Laura Kelly-McInroy
Feklusha Rachel J Mosley
Dikoy Stephen Richardson
Boris Harold Meers
Vanya Alexander Sprague
Kuligin Nicholas Butterfield
Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor Sian Edwards
Director Tim Albery
Designer Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Designer Peter Mumford