Opera Reviews
20 April 2021
Untitled Document

Julia Sporsén’s Kát’a is heart-wrenching

by Moore Parker
Janáček: Kát’a Kabanová
Opera Holland Park
26 July 2017

Alongside new opera productions this season of La Rondine, Don Giovanni, and Leoncavallo’s Zazà, Opera Holland Park gladly chose to revive its 2009 Kát’a Kabanová - directed by Olivia Fuchs, with sets by Yannis Thavoris.

The full expanse of the historic Holland House facade is well-utilised as a backdrop to a simple (but clever) series of walkways straddled over a painted watery blue expanse and featuring a cluster of bulrushes to shield a park bench (for intimacies).

An ingenious manually-powered revolving enclosure initially depicts Kát’a’s sense of imprisonment through its meshed wire walls, and converts later to a shelter for Act 3's storm. The chorus of villagers effectively underscores the drama in threatening group gesture and pose (Movement Director, Clare Whistler) - all enhanced by Colin Grenfell’s striking and atmospheric lighting.

The evening is pregnant with detail and candour from all quarters, driven by Julia Sporsén’s heart-wrenching lead. This Kát’a wins unequivocal sympathy from her first moments on stage, fully credible in her desperate struggle, and giving a tour-de-force vocal reading of international standards.

Clare Presland’s Varvara is no less effective - a wonderful foil, while enjoying great rapport with Kát’a, and bringing just the right dose of mischievous eroticism and persuasive charm to the role.

As Tichon, Nicky Spence boldly flaunts his physical attributes and demeanour (including a twitch of the hand and a sickening subservience to his dominant mother) to shamelessly create a wonderfully unappealing figure. His stentorian tone and fearless upper range surely point the way toward a bright future in the major roles of Strauss and Wagner.    

Anne Mason’s cantankerous Kabanicha wins through her perilous glint-eyed pose and determined gait, while Peter Hoare’s clarion (and interestingly mature-looking) Boris well-compliments Paul Curievici’s bespectacled and sweetly-eccentric Kudrjaš.

Sian Edwards and the City of London Sinfonia maintained immaculately-balanced pit-to-stage contact throughout in a subtle reading rich in detail and dynamics - and one that was wholly rewarding.

In all, a memorable evening to do justice to Janáček’s masterpiece.

Text © Moore Parker
Photo © Robert Workman
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