All superlatives can be aired for this staggering achievement of Jánaèek’s opera Katya Kabanova. Katie Mitchell’s evocative 1950’s style production has been in the WNO’s repertoire since 2001, currently supported by the Friends of WNO. Sung in confident, original Czech (helpfully with discreet surtitles), this is a story of passions and inevitable tragedy.
Jánaèek is a truly challenging composer for all concerned, but thankfully the orchestra rarely drowned the singers as is so often the case in opera. Clever juxtapositioning of orchestral chunks at full throttle from the pit contrasted sensitively with singers on stage, but then this cast is highly experienced in this particular tale. Skilful communication from conductor Lothar Koenigs enabled fine performances to flourish throughout.
Every character was telling in the story, with strong input from Clive Bayley as Dikov: lovely voice, totally convincing character. Stephen Rooke as husband Tichon, strong in voice but suitably cowed by Kabachina his mother (and a truly overbearing, vicious mother-in-law) splendidly created and sung by Leah-Marian Jones. But top marks for Peter Wedd as lover Boris, ardently wooing a doomed Katya.
Magnificently portrayed by soprano Amanda Roocroft, Katya, the tragic heroine, ran with the full gamut of emotions. Splendid solo acting and in superb voice, she moved the riveted audience to shocked silence at one dramatic point.
Top marks for WNO’s orchestra. Jánaèek is notoriously difficult to play, but aurally accessible. Brave strings soared into the stratosphere, whilst winds were challenged by intriguing solos leading eventually to eerie timpani ‘heart beats’ prior to Katya’s dramatic suicide in the river Volga.
A performance to remember – how do they do it?
Rating * * * * *