Opera Reviews
16 February 2019
Untitled Document

An impressive Katya

by Moore Parker
Janacek: Katya Kabanova
Vienna State Opera
30 June 2011

Photo: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael PöhnThis was a compact and well-rounded evening - the last new production of the season, and the first of the Janacek series planned by State Opera directors Franz Welser-Möst and Dominique Meyer.

The staging (direction: André Engel, sets: Nicky Rieti, costumes: Chantal de La Coste, lighting: André Diot and Susanne Auffermann) transports Janacek's masterpiece to a Russian community in postwar New York. The skyline of Manhattan gives way to a back alley fit for West Side Story, and for the trysts, a typical N.Y. flat roof. Katja's suicide is also nicely managed with just sufficient foliage for a realistic effect as she disappears into the water.

Welser-Möst drew much detail from his orchestra and has an obvious affinity with Janacek's wonderfully expressive score - pared down in this version to the essence of the composer's original.

The cast is strong, with Stephanie Houtzeel's Varvara being particularly impressive - her voice rich in timbre and effortless in every respect. She contrasted nicely with Janice Watson's bright and slightly strident Katja. Wolfgang Bankl more than makes his mark as the bullying Dikoj. As Kabanicha, Deborah Polaski takes advantage of her towering stature to dominate unrelentingly. Most effective was the final moment when she brusquely raises Katja's dead hand to remove her wedding ring, before placing it on her own finger.

Also, there was a well-chosen lineup of tenors - Norbert Ernst (sensitive and lyrical as Kudrjas), Marian Talaba (hopelessly torn between his affection for Katja and his mother's never-ending authority), and Klaus Florian Vogt as an appealing and credible Boris.

Watson's Katja is clearly tormented even before she breaks her wedding vows - almost frenetic in her fear of the inevitable. She rises to the moment in her dramatic confession scene, and finds sympathy (at least with the audience) in her ultimate resolution.

An impressive evening and one to whet the appetite for the Janacek productions yet to come.

Text © Moore Parker
Photo © Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
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