Janacek: Katya Kabanova

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Katya Kabanova
PERFORMER: Angela Denoke, David Kuebler. Jane Henschel, Henk Smits; Slovak Philharmonic Choir, Czech PO/Sylvain Cambreling; dir. Christoph Marthaler (Salzburg Festival, 1998)
The Swiss director Christoph Marthaler sets his 1998 Salzburg Katya in a crumbling Eastern European apartment block. The Kabanicha’s household is at once both inside and outside, with the upper-floor windows overlooking the main room as in a prison courtyard and with various extras peering out from time to time over the drama unfolding below. There’s something of a Hitchcock-like Rear Window feeling about the whole thing, and


Marthalet directs his characters with a similar propensity for voyeurism into their souls. The guilt engendered by being constantly overlooked makes up for the necessary lack of the religious motivation of the original in this Communist-era setting. Apart from a ridiculous water feature in the centre of the room, which spouts up in time with the characters’ libidos and into which Katya collapses at the end, in lieu of the River Volga, the updating works reasonably well. It certainly focuses rather than obscures our attention on the singers, helped by plenty of close-up camerawork in this French TV recording. Angela Denoke is a strong-willed Katya and David Kuebler makes her lover Boris a figure of impetuosity, their dramatic intensity extending into the passion of their singing. Jane Henschel is the mother-in-law from hell, lacking the assumed nobility of Felicity Palmer in the Arthaus/ Glyndebourne production, but recklessly physical in her encounters with Dikoj (a rather bland Henk Smits). Sylvain Cambreling brings out the best in the Czech Philharmonic, but the scote didn’t move me as much as with Andrew Davis and the LPO from Clyndebourne, a better library choice overall. Matthew Rye