Katya Kabanova, Holland Park Opera, August 2009

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This dark and intense Janaček opera is based on a nineteenth century Russian play, The Thunderstorm by Alexander Ostrovsky, that takes place in a village on the river Volga. An excellent essay by Robert Thicknesse in the Holland Park programme magazine describes the background to Ostrovsky’s play as being an “old-fashioned feudal [society] governed by superstition and immemorial custom and ruled by a particular breed of uneducated violent despots from what was known as the merchant class”. This was a Russia quite different from the polite society portrayed by writers such as Pushkin, Turgenev and Tolstoy. The story is essentially very simple. A daunting matriarch called the Kabanicha keeps her son Tichon in thrall to her whim, while emotionally abusing his wife Katya. When Tichon goes away on business, Katya begs him to take her along, as she fears her own attraction to a young man named Boris. The household also contains a young woman named Varvara, the Kabanicha’s foster daughter, who is in love with a man named Kudrjaš. Varvara makes the running in arranging night-time meetings between the young women and men, and when Tichon returns home, Katya cannot bear not to admit her guilt. The opera ends with her suicide, drowning herself in the Volga, after which her husband manages to blame his mother the Kabanicha for driving his wife crazy, and she simply thanks the many people who have come to witness the death.

This performance was a team effort, led with great emotional sensitivity by Stuart Stratford in the orchestra pit. The young men, Boris and Kudrjaš were very well sung by Tom Randle and Andrew Rees, with Patricia Orr very convincing as Varvara, and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts as Tichon. The Kabanicha was portrayed with calm dignity by Anne Mason, and Katya was beautifully sung by French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels. Altogether a wonderful performance of this gripping drama, which Janaček’s music so ably brings to life. Hearty thanks to the Korn/Ferry opera for putting it on stage with such a fine cast, mainly reassembled from those who were in the production of Jenufa two years ago, particularly conductor Stuart Stratford, and Anne Sophie Duprels who was Jenufa herself.

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