Janácek: Katya Kabanova

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Katya Kabanova; plus interview with Robert Carsen and Jiπí Bélohlávek
PERFORMER: Karita Mattila, Gordon Gietz, Natascha Petrinsky, Marco Moncloa, Itxaro Mentxaka, Maria José Suárez, Oleg Bryjak, Miroslav Dvorsky, Dalia Schaechter, Guy de Mey; Coro y Orquesta Titular del Teatro Real/Jirí Bélohlávek dir. Robert Carsen (Madrid, 2008)


Like quite a few operas, Katya ends with the heroine throwing herself into the river – here, the Volga. But Robert Carsen’s production, seen at Flemish Opera, La Scala and Cologne, opens with a whole flock of Katyas like so many vengeful rusalky, reeling and writhing and fainting in coils off wooden pallets into the few inches of water flooding Patrick Kinmonth’s bare stage. But as the drama advances the pallets are rearranged into the opera’s riverside duckboard walks and small stark rooms, isolated in a bluish watery haze.

The result is remarkably fluent and beautiful, universalising this village tragedy in a way the 1930s costumes can’t, and very atmospheric, even in Blu-ray high-definition. Its luminosity is reflected in Jirí Belohlávek’s conducting, undoubtedly the most airily lyrical Katya I can remember, which uses Mackerras’s edition but applies less spiky gestures.

High-definition, though, also underlines that the main roles are all rather mature. Boris, strongly if rather strenuously sung by Miroslav Dvorsky, seems an ageing roué rather than callow seducer. But not every international diva could still be as convincing vocally as Karita Mattila’s Katya, the unhappy young wife torn apart by yearnings.

She refines her bright dramatic soprano sufficiently to sound fresh and eager, then captures an edge of hysterical guilt. Natascha Petrinsky as her liberated sister-in-law Varvara and her lover the scholar Kudrjas, Gordon Gietz, also successfully sound younger than they look. Guy de Mey is a hangdog, hen-pecked Tichon.

However, the essential contrast with their bullying, hypocritical elders is dimmed, because Oleg Brychak’s robustly oafish Dikoj and Dalia Schaechter’s viperish Kabanicha are physically not much older – and certainly don’t behave it, more flagrantly lustful than the libretto allows.


Nevertheless, while the only current DVD rival, Glyndebourne’s, is pretty good, with Nancy Gustafson a more overtly youthful Katya, this rendition offers more impressive atmosphere and intensity. Michael Scott Rohan