LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Katya Kabanova
PERFORMER: Cheryl Barker, Jane Henschel,
Gwynne Howell, Victoria Simmonds, Kathleen Wilkinson, Robert Brubaker, Peter Hoare, Peter Wedd, Owen Webb; Welsh National Opera Chorus; Welsh National Opera Orchestra/Carlo Rizzi


This Katya, for me, makes a better impression than Chandos’s recent Makropoulos Case, also starring Cheryl Barker. It doesn’t have Mackerras, of course; but Carlo Rizzi, as he demonstrated in WNO’s production, has his own Janá?ek style. Katya is less spiky, more intimate and lyrical than Makropoulos, and Rizzi illuminates this with almost Puccinian warmth, while keenly evoking the tightening tensions beneath.

The studio recording, too, lets his excellent cast handle the translation more expressively, especially Barker’s harried heroine. Her intense soprano, large for the role, makes Katya sound stronger than usual yet also more neurotic, already in the grip of the obsessive guilt that will destroy her. Her brief lover Boris, sung with appropriate charm and vague callousness by Robert Brubaker, and her useless husband Tichon, well sketched by Peter Hoare, are just the agents. Katya’s real downfall is the trap set by her oppressive mother-in-law Kabanicha, personification of hypocritical small-town morality; Jane Henschel sings her with steely hauteur but keeps the monstrousness internal. Gwynne Howell lets it all hang out as her counterpart, the horrible old merchant Dikoi, alternately bullying and drunkenly masochistic. Though heedless and sensuous, Katya’s liberated sister Varvara and her scientist lover Kudryash are the sole voices of sanity, persuasively portrayed by Victoria Simmonds and Peter Wedd.

Mackerras’s Czech-language Decca recording with Söderström remains an ideal benchmark; but this fine performance undoubtedly drives home the drama more directly for English-speakers.


Michael Scott Rohan